February 14, 2008 – Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee, led by Chairman John Hall (D-NY), conducted the second in a series of hearings on the benefits claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The hearing examined the disability claims processing system at the Regional Office (RO) level at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) which receives all initial claims for benefits filed by veterans and explored the problems and solutions for eliminating the current unprecedented claims backlog.
There are 57 Regional Offices throughout the country that serve America’s veterans. There are nearly 650,000 compensation and pension claims pending in these offices and the average processing time of these claims is 183 days.
In 2007, the VA failed to meet its performance goals in major compensation-related actions. The target for disability compensation claims was 145 days, yet the actual length of time was 183 days. Additionally, the VBA consistently misses customer satisfaction and quality assurance targets. By its own numbers, 1 in 10 claims is processed incorrectly. Independent reviews conducted by VSOs places this error rate closer to three in 10, many of whom vocalized their concerns with VA’s claims accuracy and workflow processes during presentation of their testimonies in the hearing.
Chairman Hall expressed concern with the sufficiency of the VBA’s accountability measures. He also questioned the suitability of VBA’s current Claims Improvement Processing (CPI) model to ensure that meaningful accountability and quality parameters exist to reduce the claims backlog and accurately process claims. “Thus far, none of VA’s own benchmarks have improved since its implementation. I find this fact disturbing,” Hall said.
In testimony before the full House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, VA Secretary Peake stated that he wants to reduce processing times from roughly 180 days to 145 days by the start of 2009. He cited aggressive efforts to hire staff, noting that VA will have hired the 3,100 new staff authorized by Congress in recent funding cycles by 2009.
During the hearing, VA Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits, Michael Walcoff testified that based on the recommendations of IBM Global Business Services, which was contracted by VA in October 2007 to provide an independent study of VBA’s claims processing system, it plans to transition to a paperless processing environment both internally and externally to help reduce the claims backlog and process claims more efficiently. VA’s current system is heavily paper-based, overly complex and relies on WWII paradigms to develop and adjudicate disability claims.
“VBA’s long-range IT plans will not end the current backlog, but are clearly critical to the solution of updating and improving VA’s antiquated claims processing system and to providing VBA employees with 21st century tools to deliver the most accurate outcomes when adjudicating our veterans’ disability claims. These changes are long overdue.” Hall said.
Hall continued, “I believe that just like the VHA experienced a revolutionary transformation, it is well-time to think of devoting the same type of resources into transforming the VBA. It is time for a paradigm shift.”
“Our veterans deserve the benefit of our collective resources to ensure this process becomes a world-class, 21st century model that reflects their priceless sacrifice to our nation.”
Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, concurred. “We cannot wait any longer to make solid improvements in the claims processing system at the VBA,” he said. “Veterans have earned these benefits by serving our country. As a grateful nation, it is time we grant these claims in a timely fashion.”
* Joyce McMahon, Health Care Operations and Policy Research Center, CNA Corporation
* Michael McGeary, Senior Program Officer and Study Director, Committee on Medical Evaluation of Veterans for Disability, Benefits Board on Military and Veterans Health, Institute of Medicine
* Daniel Bertoni, Government Accountability Office
* Richard Cohen, President, National Organization of Veterans Advocates, Inc.
* Ronald Abrams, Joint Executive Director, National Veterans Legal Services Program
* J. David Cox, National Secretary Treasurer, AFGE
* Gordon Erspamer, Claims Attorney, California
* John Roberts, Wounded Warrior Project
* Adrian Atizado, Disabled American Veterans
* Paul Sullivan, Executive Director, Veterans for Common Sense
* Steve Smithson, American Legion
* Gerald Manar, Veterans of Foreign Wars
* Michael Walcoff, Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
* Bradley G. Mayes, Director, Compensation & Pension Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
* Diana Rubens, Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Prepared testimony for the hearing and an audio recording of the hearing is available on the internet at this link: http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/hearing.aspx?newsid=189.