Fighting for Veterans: Taking Action on the Disability Claims Backlog

House disability Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is spearheading 10 legislative initiatives to help the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) meet its obligations by 2015 and reduce the number of veterans languishing in the disability rating system.  Several months ago, the NCPA examined several problems with the VA disability system, so it is promising that a few of our solutions have been proposed.  Unfortunately, some of the initiatives are watered down and often repeats of previously failed measures.  Among them:

  • VA Claims, Operations and Records Efficiency Act.  Requires the Department of Defense to provide certified, complete, and electronic records to VA within 21 days.
  • Expedite claims processing by educating veterans on the quickest route to receive their decision. Provides veterans with information regarding VA’s timeliness for adjudicating claims in different formats such as paper application or online utilizing the Fully Developed Claims program.

Senior fellow Pam Villarreal and I recommended formation and transmission of complete electronic health records for all service members in our NCPA publication.  We also expressed sincere concern over the fact that the VA does not track the number of service members who receive education on their benefits.  Of course it’s required by the Department of Defense to receive said education, but fortunately it’s now available in an online Powerpoint presentation. That just oozes significance.

  • Encouraging the automation of certain VA claims.  Requires the VA to provide an annual report listing those medical conditions that are processed in an electronic automated fashion, the feasibility/consideration for adding additional medical conditions, and any barriers barring VA from adding those medical conditions that are not automated.

However, last month we pointed out that the number of electronic health  records in use has not changed since 2007.

  • Claims Adjudication Centers of Excellence. Requires Veterans Benefits Administration to establish a pilot program that would focus on the 10 most complex and time consuming medical conditions.

This was already tried once under the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008, but has so far failed (see recent blog post).

  • H.R. 1521.  Extends the VA’s authority to contract for medical disability examinations by five years.
  • Require the VA to maximize the use of private medical evidence.  When a claimant submits private medical evidence, including a private medical opinion, that is competent, credible, probative, and otherwise adequate for rating purposes, the Secretary shall not request a VA medical examination.

There is evidence, published by both the VA Office of Inspector General and Government Accountability Office, that claims adjudicators do not properly understand the medical jargon used by evaluation staff.  Allowing private medical evidence is an excellent suggestion, but how are veterans expected to pay for exams to determine the severity of service-connected disabilities?  Again Ms. Villarreal and I recommend increased privatization, in accordance with federal sourcing laws, and health savings accounts which would allow vets to not only be diagnosed, but also treated for disabilities within their own communities.

  • Pay veterans as medical conditions are adjudicated – Requires the VA to pay for medical conditions as they are adjudicated in an electronic system.

Now this is a good idea.  Careful though, the VA is where all good ideas go to die.

  • HR. 1623.  Requires the VA to provide numerous data points in an online setting that would better detail the backlog, the timeliness and accuracy of VA regional offices, and timeliness and accuracy of adjudicating specific medical conditions.
  • Require annual reports on VA regional offices that fail to meet backlog reduction goals.  Requires annual reports on VA regional offices that are not meeting their administrative goal of no claim taking longer than 125 days with 98% accuracy.
  • Require detailed reporting on VA information requests to federal agencies.  Requires the VA to track all information requests to other federal entities.

Alright, so according to the GAO, automated claims processing systems, which have been in development for years, have still yet to fully process a single disability claim end to end.  The VA has already considered an initiative to increase the accuracy rates, it’s deceitful and discussed in a previous blog post. Congressional Committees have recognized that the VA does not always respond to Congress in a timely manner, and exhibit “abdications of responsibility, failures of judgment, and serious lapses of stewardship.”  Please Ms. Pelosi – show me some enforcement measures in this legislative packet which will convince me and other disillusioned veterans that this isn’t just all a publicity stunt.

Comments (11)

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  1. Joe Barnett says:

    The VA disability claims process is scandalous, but it is difficult to improve any bureaucratic system because of its nature.

  2. Lewis Warne says:

    Kyle, it sounds like you and Pam are doing some really great work. In light of the recent focus on the VA, do you think meaningful change will happen?

  3. JD says:

    Privatization is the answer. You know that the government will screw it up.

  4. Andrew says:

    It is frustrating to see policymakers take two steps forward and then two steps backwards. To me it also looks like many proposed solutions are watered down, although I don’t know a whole lot about VA affairs.

  5. Wasif says:

    “Alright, so according to the GAO, automated claims processing systems, which have been in development for years, have still yet to fully process a single disability claim end to end.” What a hot mess, my goodness, why are there so many hot messes in this world!

  6. Dewaine says:

    mmm. Jack in the Box.

  7. Cory says:

    A good first step would be just getting them to comply with congresses requests for information.

  8. Dewaine says:

    If at first the government doesn’t succeed:

    1. try, try again.
    a) with more money
    b) pretend to do something different

  9. Nigel Molesworth says:

    The government has been pushing veterans aside for years. When will they show people who have given themselves for out country some respect.

  10. John Craeten says:

    2. Pretend to try
    a)by blaming the opposing political party in congress
    b)or Blame bush, always blame bush

  11. Kyle says:

    Nothing will change. Improvements are much more efficient under market conditions which push margins than they are under bureaucratic squabbling. If the VA doesn’t bother responding to Congressional inquiries and funding increases annually — there is little incentive for meaningful change.

    The veteran population is shrinking at a rate slower than VA budget increases. So there’s little correlation, except in the value of political currency/budget increases.

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