The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is looking to tackle its growing backlog of disability compensation claims through the use of automation technology.

That’s the word from President Biden’s nominee to become the VA’s under secretary for benefits, Joshua Jacobs, who is already doing most of that job as the senior advisor for policy performing the delegable duties of the under secretary for benefits at the VA.

During a Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on Feb. 16 to discuss his nomination, Jacobs fielded questions on how he would ensure veterans are receiving timely responses to their claims.

With a backlog of more than 194,000 disability compensation claims, the VA is only expecting that number to increase with the passage of the PACT Act last year. The PACT Act is a new law that expands VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances.

Jacobs explained the VA is driving new people and process solutions, such as hiring an additional 2,000 employees over the last year and looking at efforts like overdevelopment. But there’s also a third piece the VA is honing in on, which the nominee called a “game changer.”

“We’re also employing technology. We’re in the early stages of leveraging automated decision support. But, I think this is the real potential game changer as we move forward,” Jacobs said. “It’s going to give our employees more tools to make more decisions more quickly, accurately, and equitably across the system and I think it’ll help us ensure that we don’t have to linearly increase employee staffing to meet the growing demand.”

To date, Jacobs explained, the VA has received more than 300,000 PACT Act claims since the bill was signed into law in August 2022. He said the VA is expecting about 700,000 PACT Act claims in this fiscal year, and upwards of five million total – both PACT and non-PACT.

The bottom line, he said, is the VA is going to see “a significant increase in the number of claims filed,” but the agency is preparing for that by “working through a robust people, process, technology solution.”

“I think the technology piece is really going to be the game changer moving forward,” Jacobs reiterated. “It’s still in the early stages, we need to verify, validate, and graduate it before we expand it more broadly across the system.”

“And we importantly need to ensure that the veterans we serve, the members of Congress who provide oversight, and the employees who use that system have trust that it’ll provide the right decisions at the right time,” he said.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.