By Art Holliday
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - In an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 5, Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki says progress is being made with hundreds of thousands of backlogged VA disability claims.
For years, veterans had complained about waiting as much as a year before their disability claims were handled.
"We took on the responsibility of ending the backlog," said Shinseki, who became VA Secretary in 2009. "Not just managing it better, not just reducing it, but ending it in 2015. In order to do that we had to develop an automation program that's in place today."
Perhaps Shinseki's biggest challenge is overseeing VA's massive transition to digital record keeping to end the controversial backlog of disability claims. In March of this year, Shinseki says the backlog was 611,000.
"In the last 145 days, 100,000 claims have been processed and the backlog has been reduced," said Shinseki.
To emphasize the commitment to update record-keeping and end the backlog, Shinseki cited the current federal budget.
"President Obama's 2014 budget request, the one that's before Congress today, includes a record-breaking $3.68 billion for IT requirements, reflecting the vital role that IT plays in our daily work," he said.
Another goal for Secretary Shinseki is helping veterans succeed in a tough but slowly improving economy. He is in St. Louis this week attending the National Veterans Small Business Conference at America's Center. The conference is providing opportunities for veteran owned business to network with federal agencies and commercial firms.
Quoting President Obama, Shinseki said "'Veterans who fought our wars should not have to fight for jobs'. Success of veteran-owned small businesses means employment for others. Especially other veterans."
During his Thursday afternoon address at the convention center, he reminded the audience he's a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan, but he stopped short of gloating about the 2004 World Series when his Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals.
"Good luck to you and hopefully we'll see each other in October," he said.