Recently, a Congressional hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs was held. The topic: Review of Veterans' Disability Compensation: Forging a Path Forward. Having watched the 130-plus minute session I question what if anything was moved forward. This meeting included: Noel Koch, Director, Office Of Transition Policy Care Coordination, Department Of Defense; Patrick W. Dunne, Under Secretary For Benefits, Veterans Benefits Administration, Department Of Veterans Affairs; Michael P. Allen, Professor, Stetson University College Of Law; Daniel Bertoni, Director, Education, Workforce, And Income Security, GAO, and; John Wilson, Associate National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans. From having watched the hearing three thoughts come to mind: Same Stuff Different Day; "I'll take that under advisement," and; The Emperor's (VA) New Cloths... all over again. However, the report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Veterans' Disability Benefits: Preliminary Findings on Claims Processing Trends and Improvement Efforts, GAO-09-910T July 29, 2009, did include points that we veteran advocates recognize as fact.
Simply put, while various new-processes have been undertaken to attempt to reduce backlog, it seems the VA has not yet identified any measurement metrics to assess the progression of these new processes, no less determining what 'success' would be. It seems the VA will initiate and implement (read that spend the money) but when it comes to evaluate... they either haven't the foggiest idea, or prefer not to.
- The number of disability claims VA completes annually at the initial level increased about 60 percent - from about 458,000 in fiscal year 1999 to about 729,000 in fiscal year 2008. During this same period, the number of claims pending at year-end increased 65 percent to about 343,000.
- Over the past several years, the number of appeals resolved increased 22 percent, from more than 72,000 cases in fiscal year 2003 to almost 88,000 cases in fiscal year 2008. However, it took on average 96 days longer in fiscal year 2008 to resolve appeals than in fiscal year 2003.
- The VA has taken several steps to improve claims processing, but the effect of some of these actions is not yet known. For example, VA increased claims processing staff about 58 percent from fiscal years 2005 to 2009, which has helped to increase the total number of decisions VA issues annually. However, VA expects individual staff productivity to decline in the short-term in part because of the challenge of training and integrating new staff.
- The VA has established 15 resource centers to which it redistributes claims and appeals for processing from backlogged regional offices, although VA has not collected data to evaluate the effect of its workload redistribution efforts.
The Senate Panel
Panel Agrees On Need To Reform Veterans' Disability System: Chairman Akaka encouraged by Administration's willingness to admit shortcomings; witnesses suggest solutions to claims processing challenges
Witnesses testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs agreed today on the need to reform the veterans' disability compensation system. "The consensus is growing that the veterans' disability compensation system needs to be broadly transformed. Representatives from the veterans' community, academia, and government are coming forward with specific ideas.
I am encouraged by the Administration's willingness to advocate for change, and I will be working with VA officials and others to develop a broad compensation reform proposal
," said Akaka.
We can only hope.
--- Regards, Walt Schmidt