www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-denis-mcdonough-va-20130524,0,6687039.story

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White House chief of staff visits local VA office

Discusses claims backlog with managers, employees

By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

7:32 PM EDT, May 24, 2013

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White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough visited the Baltimore regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday to discuss efforts to address the agency's persistent backlog of veterans disability claims.

The Baltimore office, which serves half a million veterans in Maryland, is among the nation's worst performers in processing claims, The Baltimore Sun has shown in a series of stories. McDonough's visit was not announced and was not open to reporters.

McDonough met with managers in the office as well as employees who handle the claims processing. They discussed the agency's efforts to transition away from paper claims and toward an electronic system VA officials hope will speed reviews, a senior administration official said.

Weekly data released by the agency show that more than 81 percent of the 16,000 disability claims at Baltimore's office are more than 125 days old. The national average is about 67 percent.

The error rate in Baltimore is the highest in the country at 25.8 percent.

VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki has vowed to eliminate the backlog by 2015. On Wednesday he joined Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland for a closed-door meeting on the issue.

Nationwide, nearly 600,000 veterans have been waiting months for a decision on whether they will receive benefits.

McDonough visited Baltimore on the same day his boss, President Barack Obama, spoke to graduating midshipmen at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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