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VA secretary wants to end backlog by 2015

WASHINGTON — Although the number of veterans’ disability claims keeps soaring, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said on Sunday that he is committed to ending the backlog by 2015 by replacing paper with electronic records.

Veterans receive disability compensation for injuries or illness incurred during their active military service. About 600,000 claims, or 70 percent, are considered backlogged. The number of claims pending for more than 125 days has nearly quadrupled under Shinseki’s watch.

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He said on CNN’s ‘‘State of the Union’’ that a decade of war and efforts to make it easier for veterans to collect compensation for certain illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder have driven the backlog higher. He said that doing away with paper records will be the key to a turnaround.

Shinseki said that the VA has put its new computer system in place in 20 regional offices across the country and all regional offices will be on the system by the end of the year.

‘‘This has been decades in the making, 10 years of war. We’re in paper, we need to get out of paper,’’ Shinseki said. The Defense Department and other agencies still file paper claims, he said, but ‘‘we have commitments that in 2014 we will be electronically processing our data and sharing it.’’

Congressional committees have held two hearings on the disability claims backlog in the past two weeks. Lawmakers voiced frustration with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

About 4.3 million veterans and survivors get disability benefits. Most veterans whose claims are backlogged are getting some disability compensation already but seek more.

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