World and Nation

Shorts (left)

‘Land technology passed by’ hopes digital fix aids veterans

SALT LAKE CITY — One desk, clean and empty, suggested a recently retired employee. The other, piled high with brown folders wrapped in rubber bands and bristling with color-coded tabs, screamed “backlog.”

Two desks, occupied by people doing the same work: processing veterans’ disability claims. But on one, a new technology based on digitized records was in use. On the other, claims were being worked the traditional way: with paper files containing hundreds, even thousands of pages per veteran.

“This can be a little oppressive,” said Keaton Stamper, a service representative, looking at the wall of folders lining her cubicle.

The clean desk embodies the Department of Veterans Affairs’ vision for shrinking its mountainous inventory of disability compensation claims. At last count, the department had nearly 900,000 pending claims, two-thirds of which were more than 125 days old, the agency’s benchmark for timeliness.

The backlog has become a major source of embarrassment for the department, causing bipartisan ire in Congress and frustration among thousands of veterans who complain of long waits, unfair decisions and delayed payments.

—James Dao, The New York Times

Enrollment drops again in graduate programs

Enrollment in college is still climbing, but students are increasingly saying no to graduate school in the United States.

New enrollment in graduate schools fell last year for the second consecutive year, according to a report from the Council of Graduate Schools.

The declines followed surges in enrollment in 2008 and 2009 as many unemployed workers sought a haven during the recession. Financial considerations probably played a role in the shift. Students may be dissuaded from continuing their education in part because of the increasing debt burden from their undergraduate years.

Additionally, state budget cuts are forcing public institutions to reduce aid for graduate students, who in some disciplines have traditionally been paid to attend postgraduate programs.

The number of students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs (excluding law and certain other first professional degrees like M.D.’s) declined by 1.7 percent from fall 2010 to fall 2011.

Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, matriculation fell by 2.3 percent. In contrast, temporary residents increased their enrollment by 7.8 percent.

—Catherine Rampell, The New York Times

At UN, Myanmar leader highlights steps to reform

The president of Myanmar, a former general who has led the move away from a prolonged era of dictatorship, poverty and isolation, asserted on Thursday in his first United Nations speech that “amazing changes” were transforming his country and could never be reversed.

The president, Thein Sein, also paid homage to the country’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former political prisoner whose liberation from nearly two decades of house arrest in 2010 signaled the beginning of Myanmar’s gradual emergence from pariah status.

“As a Myanmar citizen, I would like to congratulate her for the honors she has received in this country in recognition of her efforts for democracy,” said Thein Sein in his address to the U.N. General Assembly.

—Rick Gladstone, The New York Times