Nearly half of the 46,000 disability applications before Veterans Affairs Canada are considered backlogged — but federal officials insisted today they finally have a plan to deal with it.

For many years, the number of incoming claims has outstripped the department’s ability to process them within its self-imposed service timelines.

The backlog is partly the result of changes introduced by both the former Conservative government and the current Liberal one that expanded or redrafted the list of entitlements.

Veterans Affairs has announced it is hiring 300 more full-time staff over the next two years to focus on the most common applications, including those for hearing loss, tinnitus and musculoskeletal conditions.

The department said it expects to have the new staff trained and in place by January of next year. Senior department officials said they hope to get the backlog down to below 5,000 files with the new measures, and to eliminate all overdue applications by March 2022.

“We’re going to go as fast as we can,” said one senior official, who spoke on-background at a teleconference briefing earlier today.

The plan also envisions hiring an unspecified number of temporary employees to deal with the backlog.

The proposals were presented last week to the House of Commons veterans committee for study.

For months, the veterans department has tried to reassure veterans advocates and groups that represent former soldiers that it is taking action by limiting mandatory medical consultations and simplifying the tools claims adjudicators use to assess disability.

Last year, the federal government streamlined the process for post traumatic stress disorder applications, introducing a less specific form for doctors to fill out.

The average wait time to process an application is 34 weeks. The service standard is supposed to be 16 weeks.

Different files pass through the system at different speeds, depending on their complexity. For example, a first-time PTSD claim takes an average of 34 weeks to get through the system, according to a Veterans Affairs online calculator.

But a veteran who has multiple conditions in addition to mental health issues can wait 53 weeks to have applications processed.

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