Veterans Face a Bureaucratic Battle Back Home

Note:  Guest blogger Kyle Buckley, an NCPA research associate, discusses the war zone that is the Veterans Administration.

Over the last year there have been a number of congressional inquiries into the reasons for a growing disability claims backlog at the Veterans Administration.  The VA has failed to comply with requests for information, outright misled lawmakers, and is now facing congressional inquiries for their history of funny accounting.  The NCPA’s new report chronicles these and other misadventures of the Veterans Benefits Administration.

The VBA has about 860,000 claims currently pending, nearly 70 percent (582,000) are considered backlogged.  A variety of excuses have been made by the Veterans Administration for backlog increases, such as:

  • Additional presumptive disabilities associated with Agent Orange exposure,
  • New regulations for processing certain claims related to Gulf War service, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • Ten years of war with increased survival rates;
  • Successful extensive use of outreach programs encouraging more veterans to submit claims;

Unfortunately, none of them induces a great deal of sympathy.

When we remove claims pending from Vietnam and Gulf War veterans, to whom the VA has still not met its obligations, only 20 percent (172,000) of the claims awaiting decisions belong to vets from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.  The numbers of post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury claims are growing at a much slower rate than other injuries.  Survivability rates are a contested subject,  and the VA does not even bother to track the number of separating soldiers who have been educated on their benefits.

Overall, the VA is far short of its 2015 performance goals, so what have they done?

They have simply decided to lower the bar.  Required mental health visits for soldiers suffering from PTSD have been cut by 50 percent.  Soldiers evaluated for the severity of their symptoms (used for benefits adjustments, as some symptoms manifest themselves over time) are not tracked.  All told, the numbers of backlogged claims are up, accuracy rates are down, and efficiency thresholds have more holes than the Iraqi navy.

When comparing Social Security and VA disability processing systems, Social Security Disability is leaps and bounds more efficient than the institution we have saddled our veterans with.

No doubt, the VA has some substantial political weight.  No one in Washington wants to appear like they don’t support veterans.  Why, Nancy Pelosi supports them so much that even though the veteran population in San Francisco is in the bottom quartile, her district receives nearly 25 percent more VA funding than any other congressional district in California!

This is not to say that the VA hasn’t made improvements.  Veteran homelessness has significantly fallen, vocational rehabilitation programs have spectacular success rates, and VA home loans have lower than average default rates.

But, as we all head over the fiscal cliff, remember this:  Veterans deserve our support, the Veterans Administration does not.


Comments (6)

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  1. Lewis says:

    “VA will be subject to administrative cuts under a sequester”

    This surely won’t improve the bureaucratic problems the VA suffers.

  2. Kyle says:

    Well they’ve been catching a lot of heat lately because the number and cost of VA administrative conferences have nearly tripled since 2005.

    Spending 50k on a Patton impersonator.. Senior administrators accepting kickbacks from event vendors.. that sort of thing. A bill to exempt the VA from sequestration has been sitting on the budget committee desk for nearly a year. They’re basically holding it over Shinseki’s head like a carrot, hoping to coax a little progress out of the lumbering simpleton that is the VA.

    You’re right though, it won’t improve the bureaucratic problems; mainly because Shinseki got all of his administrative prowess from guys like Rumsfeld and Cheney. Take that how you will.

  3. Mike Smith says:

    The cited report which states–“Applied to the 2011 population projections, the 60% error rate for appeals to BVA means that of the 870,000 claims awaiting a decision, 60% of all denials will be erroneous.”–is wrong.

    The report applies the wrong error rate to the wrong population of claimants for the purpose of predicting that VA will incorrectly decide a large number of claims.

    Let’s look at the actual data…

    VA decided 1,044,027 claims in FY12. One in ten Veterans disagreed with those decisions.

    • 121,786 Notices of Disagreement were received on the million+ decisions, but only 36,272 of those were appealed to VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) in FY12.

    • BVA granted benefits (overturned Regional Office decisions) in 12,490 of these appeals in FY12. This represents less than 1.2% of all VA decisions in FY12–not 60% that the report predicted.

  4. Kyle says:


    I assume what you meant to say was that, by your numbers, the error rate for denials was 35% (12490/36272).

    Processing errors, inaccuracies, and appeal rates all of these contribute to the error rate.

    For example, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Annual Reports 2000-2009 data says that over that period the Veterans’ Court ruled in favor of veterans, in some measure, in 80% of cases.

    It’s fantastic that only 10% of veterans appeal their denials, our source had it closer to 15%. Of course the reason they don’t appeal their decisions is fairly upsetting.

    Veterans also have 120 days to file an appeal, and in 2011 the Supreme Court ruled that if they miss the deadline there aren’t any jurisdictional consequences. So are you comparing FY2012 data to appeals sourced in 2011? I’m not sure where you got your information or how exactly it lines up.

    Getting accurate data from the VA is difficult, you must be an insider Mike. Feel free to send me an e-mail

  5. Joe Barnett says:

    A shocking report!

  6. Marcie says:

    this is horrific!! How dare the VA treat men and women who fight everyday for our freedom, many of which who will not see their loved ones for years or ever in some cases, this way. I am disgusted!

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