When we published our interactive map of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ backlog of disability benefits claims in August, our goal was to highlight the delays’ impact on veterans across the country. Updated with new data from the VA each week, the map also serves as an ongoing accountability tracker for the agency’s progress on the backlog, which it has pledged to eliminate by 2015.

Eight months after the map’s launch, the backlog has dropped slightly, but delays have worsened – and a wealth of journalists and media outlets have cited our data analysis on the issue. We have helped many of them localize the story for their communities: From newspapers to public radio stations and local nonprofit journalism shops, organizations around the U.S. have used our reporting and analysis to create powerful stories about the plight of their local veterans.

Today, we’re going a step further.

We’re excited to announce a new API (application programming interface) for the backlog-related data we’ve gathered, which is open and available for anyone to use. If you use this data in any way, you must credit the Center for Investigative Reporting in your product with a link back to our website at cironline.org. You can access the API through our page on GitHub. We would love to see developers and data analysts explore new ways to visualize and localize the information.

Here’s a list of the data available in the API:

  • Veterans waiting on a disability claim: The number of veterans waiting for a response from the VA for compensation for a disease, injury or illness linked to service in the military.
  • Average processing time: The average number of days veterans wait for a decision from the VA.
  • Average wait for new claims: The average number of days veterans filing a claim for the first time wait for a response from the VA.
  • Average time to decide an appeal: The average number of days veterans wait for a response from the VA if they were denied their original claim and had to appeal.
  • Completed claims: The number of claims processed by the VA by month.
  • Claims received: The number of claims received by the VA by month.
  • Claims completed per FTE: The number of claims processed per VA claims employee over the course of a year.
  • Employees on duty: Number of claims staff working at the veterans service center at each VA regional office.
  • Claims pending at least 125 days: The number of unprocessed claims at least 125 days old, including appeals.
  • Claims pending at least one year: The number of unprocessed claims at least a year old, including appeals.

Our new data dashboard, fueled by the API, offers an easy way to see, share and embed data from each of the individual regional offices. Find your nearest office to see a trend line of the disability claims backlog at that location. Each of these graphs can be quickly embedded on any website and will be updated each week with new data from the VA. See an example of the new, embeddable charts below.

Help us localize this story

Along with the API, we’re also launching a new initiative. We want to collect at least one veteran’s story from each of the 58 regional offices to feature on our map. And we’re already off to a strong start, thanks to the work of reporter Aaron Glantz and news organizations across the country. On our map, you’ll see some offices have a red border around them. Click those to explore veterans’ experiences reported by our partners. For offices that don’t have a red border, we need a veteran’s story for that area. That’s where you come in. Here are the ways to get involved:

If you’re a veteran willing to share your experience applying for disability benefits: Please take a few minutes to fill out this Public Insight Network form to tell reporters more.

If you’re a news organization interested in using our data and/or localizing the story: Get in touch. We’d love to feature a link to your story from the corresponding regional office data point on our map. We’ve also heard from dozens of veterans who have written to us about their experiences and could potentially put you in touch if you’re looking for a source. We’re working on a better way to connect journalists with local veteran sources, but you can email Cole Goins in the meantime to learn more: cgoins@cironline.org

One note about what we’re looking for in local stories: They don’t all have to be about the problems veterans are facing with their disability claims. We’re also looking for bright spots. How did VA benefits help a disabled veteran? Is your regional office improving; how? We’re hoping that a diversity of stories and experiences can help us highlight both problems and potential solutions.

Today is just the start of this new initiative, so expect more in the weeks to come. We’ll also be sharing our reporting and stories on veterans’ disability claims on Twitter with the hashtag #VAbacklog. Feel free to tweet us using that hashtag to share questions, comments or insights.

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Shane Shifflett is a software developer and reporter who learned how to interrogate data while working on a story at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. There, he wrote about a drug-addled prostitute's 300th arrest and the unforgiving criminal justice system failing its inmates. He also reported on the Chicago Police Department's wasteful deployment of cameras across the city. Before reporting, Shane studied computer science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, worked in construction, moved packages for UPS and wrote software for a mutual fund company.

Cole Goins is the director of community engagement for Reveal, where he cultivates partnerships that blend in-depth journalism and creative public engagement. He has built and supported distribution networks, spearheaded arts-based initiatives such as the Off/Page Project, led social media and audience strategy, and facilitated statewide media collaborations. He was a senior fellow in the 2015 USC Annenberg Health Journalism Fellowships, mentoring five journalists on approaches to community engagement. Previously, Goins was the engagement editor at the Center for Public Integrity, where he led audience development initiatives and multimedia features for award-winning investigative projects. He earned a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he worked as music director for WXYC, the student-run radio station. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.