WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Department of Veterans Affairs is still struggling with an enormous backlog in claims for medical and educational benefits that are piling up despite efforts to diminish the paperwork, the secretary of the department admitted Wednesday.
The VA has implemented an electronic records system, but faces a flood of medical claims each month. In July alone, the VA processed 92,000 claims, but another 91,200 came in. The department has 400,000 claims in the works, with more than a quarter of them left unprocessed for more than 125 days.
"Regardless of how we parse the numbers, there is a backlog. It is too big and veterans are waiting too long for decisions," said Eric Shinseki, secretary of veterans affairs, in his opening statement to the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.
Shinseki was pressed on the backlog by Rep. Debbie Halvorson, D-Illinois, who asked about the problem of many claims having to be resubmitted. The secretary said it was a problem of trust between veterans and the department that he was trying to change, making every employee an "advocate" for veterans.
"What I mean by advocacy is that when Shinseki walks in and says 'I want to put a claim in,' my intent is to put together the very best claim the first time with a very high probability of success," Shinseki responded. "Whatever is there right now is what we are addressing. It is a change in culture. It is a change in attitude."