VA still buried in claims backlog

Claims processing at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) remains slow and inefficient despite numerous efforts to reform the process during the past several years, witnesses told members of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Benefits at a hearing held in El Paso, Texas on Friday.

Six years ago, VBA launched an aggressive effort to improve its claims processing accuracy by using case management techniques and by reorganizing its field offices into clusters meant to collaborate with one another. VBA oversees the processing of veterans' benefits and pays out nearly $25 billion each year.

But several stumbling blocks kept VBA from achieving its goal. At the end of March, it was taking the agency an average of 224 days to process a claim. Claims are for such things as disability compensation, pensions and survivors' benefits. There are more than 400,000 cases, not counting appeals, still pending in VBA's backlog, twice the number of backlogged cases in fiscal 1997. The agency is now struggling to reduce those figures to 100 days and 250,000 cases, respectively, a goal set by Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi.

VBA directly attributes the increased numbers to the 2000 Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA), which provides veterans with more assistance in preparing their claims, and the recent decision to allow benefits for Vietnam veterans with diabetes, said Robert Epley, VBA's associate deputy undersecretary for policy program management.

Still, an increase in employees and work hours at VBA will result in increased productivity and the backlog will begin to diminish, Epley said.

Recent initiatives launched to tackle the ever-growing pile of claims include: the creation of a special team to close out claims more than one year old; the addition of production goals to regional office performance plans; and, the establishment of specialized processing teams at each veterans service center.

"We believe that our current strategies will not only further our efforts to reach the goal of 100 days for claims processing time, but also serve to improve our business practices," Epley told lawmakers.

However, Cynthia Bascetta, director of veterans health and benefit issues at the General Accounting Office, said in her testimony that stepping up the claims turnaround time at VBA depends on more than just increasing production and reducing inventory.

"While these initiatives seem promising, it is unclear the extent to which they will improve timeliness," Bascetta said, citing as an example the time spent waiting for evidence needed to complete a claim. "VBA needs to continue to reduce delays in the process."

Bascetta said that officials at some of the regional offices are focusing on easier cases in order to meet new production goals, which may cause older cases to remain unresolved. Information systems improvements are also needed to help deliver improvements with claims processing, Bascetta said.

"After 16 years, VBA is still experiencing delays in implementing its replacement benefit delivery system," Bascetta told lawmakers.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.