The Department of Veterans Affairs is cutting red tape for veterans by eliminating the need to complete an annual report that verifies their eligibility for pension benefits. Surprisingly, it is called the Eligibility Verification Report or EVR.

Now, the staff that had been processing EVRs is expected to turn their attention to the backlog of compensation claims, mostly related to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, that has bedeviled the agency.

The VA has completed nearly 1 million disability claims in each of the last two years but still finds itself swamped. Despite pledges to shrink the backlog, the length of time before a veteran receives a check has actually grown to nearly nine months. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki earlier this year pledged to reduce the backlog to 125 days by 2015.

The backlog is due largely to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with more complex claims, and a decision two years ago to expand compensation for Agent Orange-related illnesses. Claims also increase in a poor economy, VA officials have said.

The new arrangement for pension eligibility verification is expected to free up as many as 100 VA employees to address the disability logjam.

In the past, veterans who get VA benefits were required to submit the pension eligibility report each year. The VA will now work with the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration to make the verifications. It is supposed to herald in a new era of multi-agency cooperation.

The VA estimates it would have sent nearly 150,000 of the eligibility reports to beneficiaries in January 2013. That's on top of a process already in place that is designed to allow an expedited process for wounded veterans to get access to their Social Security disability benefits.

All beneficiaries currently receiving VA pension benefits are expected to receive a letter from the VA explaining the changes and providing instructions on how to continue to submit their unreimbursed medical expenses.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434