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VA chief vows to eliminate veterans' claims backlog by 2015

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Veterans line up to check in for the Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down at the VA Medical Center in Washington
Veterans line up to check in for the Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down at the VA Medical Center in Washington

(Reuters) - U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said on Sunday he was committed to eliminating a backlog of veterans' disability claims that has accumulated steadily as soldiers returned from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Shinseki told CNN's "State of the Union" the agency is installing electronic records systems to speed up claims processing and erase the backlog by 2015.

"I took this job to make things better for veterans," the retired Army general said. "No veteran should have to wait for claims. We have a fix for this."

Long wars overseas have overwhelmed the claims process, especially as returning Iraq and Afghan veterans have survived combat injuries at a higher rate than veterans of previous wars, with record numbers of disabilities.

According to the American Legion, a not-for-profit veterans organization, there were 509,000 claims pending with 39 percent backlog in 2010. That figure has swollen to 896,000 claims pending with a 70 percent backlog.

In January, the Government Accountability Office, a government watchdog, warned that the VA risked falling short of its goal of processing disability claims on time by 2015. And it said the VA's strategy for reducing the backlog "fell short of established criteria for sound planning."

(Reporting By Toni Clarke; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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