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Is Washington Headed Down the Wrong Path to Fix VA Claims Backlog?

Senate Appropriations Committee throws some money at the problem on day Concerned Veterans for America event delves into a more complex solution.

by
Bridget Johnson

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June 21, 2013 - 1:18 am
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WASHINGTON — The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved the fiscal year 2014 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs (VA) and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, which included a 10-point “Checklist for Change” intended to fix the backlogged VA system.

As of June 10, Veterans Affairs reported 816,839 pending compensation claims for service-related disabilities as the agency continues to come under fire for sluggish processing that has left wounded warriors waiting for months on end for any claims resolution.

Sixty-six percent of current outstanding claims are considered backlogged — pending for more than 125 days.

Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) worked with MilCon/VA Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) to develop the checklist that sinks $20 million more than the budget request into upgrading VA computer hardware, allocates an additional $10 million to pay overtime costs for claims processors “to increase production and efficiency,” and requires additional training, audits, and reports.

“When our veterans return from war, they shouldn’t have to face a quagmire of bureaucracy in getting their claims processed,” Mikulski said. “The solution to this problem must come right from the top. That’s why as chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, I convened a meeting with leaders from DOD, VA, Social Security and the IRS.”

“Our committee insisted on a sense of urgency and a fire in the belly to get the job done,” she continued. “The result is the 10-point Checklist for Change to the end the backlog included in this bill. It’s progress. But more needs to be done.”

But representatives of veterans groups told a breakfast crowd near the Capitol on Thursday morning that the solution to the problem lies closer to the root of the backlogs: some offices perform better than others, and some stagnate at the bottom of the list.

The average wait time for claims processing at VA’s Baltimore Regional Office is 332 days. More than 16,000 claims, or 84 percent, are older than 125 days, the Appropriations Committee noted. The error rate of this office — 26.2 percent — soars over the national rate of 13.7 percent. Mikulski visited the office in February with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

American Legion Executive Director Peter Gaytan said while there’s “no one real solution to this complex problem,” it’s not going to be found sitting behind a desk in the Beltway.

Those interested in reform should visit the claims offices performing well in addition to the ones performing miserably and sit down, open files, and talk to staff to do the research needed to chart a course forward, Gaytan said on a panel discussion at the Concerned Veterans for America event.

“You have to be able to take the time to visit.. you’ve got to be able to understand the complexities,” he said.

Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, stressed there’s “no silver bullet” that’s going to fix the mess — but the solution needs to include field hearings at regional VA offices.

“Let’s go to where we’re seeing the problems locally,” he said.

Stewart Hickey, executive director of AMVETS, noted that “rearranging the deck chairs will not make things operate more smoothly.”

The ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Richard Burr (R-N.C.), told breakfast attendees that the backlog is an “embarrassment.”

“We’re doing everything we can, and consistently what we hear back is in 2015 it’s all gonna be fine,” he said in reference to the target date Shinseki has vowed will be the end of the backlog and the dawn of a 90 percent processing accuracy rate.

“I don’t know about you but the math just doesn’t work,” Burr continued. “This is not a shot at individuals or an agency; it’s a shot that people who process these claims don’t see the face behind the piece of paper.”

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All Comments   (10)
All Comments   (10)
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It saddens me to see only seven (now eight) postings to this story. Veterans have sacrificed limbs, sanity, chronic debilitating pain....even their very lives...in service to our nation. It would appear that not very many Americans give a hoot though. We have lost our soul as a nation.

Remember BENGHAZI!
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's just not something that there is much to comment about. It doesn't appear too political, although of course Obama seems to have come to this way too late.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am a Gulf War vet. I have been trying to get a claim processed for 3 years. I have friends that are on their 5th and 6th year of waiting because majority of initial claims are denied. Veterans assume everyone will be denied the first time and the appeals take even longer to get to. I went through this 1999-2001 also and gave up. Yes, I am more than a piece of paper!
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
800,000 vets are waiting to their applications reviewed but over Ten million so called disabled persons got approved without a problem.
It makes one wonder where Obama's cohorts priority lies.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
You wonder? I don't wonder at all. I know what his priorities are. He tells us in his actions every day.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
The answer lies in a change of culture at the VA - Regime Change, as it were. Until we have a president that really cares, and is willing to get serious about cleaning up this national disgrace, no amount of money is going to fix the system. It is a bureaucratic leviathan that is incentive based: IF the agency comes in "under budget" for a fiscal year, the upper management is AWARDED MONETARY BONUSES. Under that system, does anyone really believe these career government bureaucrats are going to ensure veterans get everything they need, deserve, and have earned?

A large part of the problem is that a vast majority of rating officers are not even veterans themselves. Typical. Having accountants and human resources personnel decide whether or not a veteran's service is eligible for compensation is just as wrong as two boys in the shower.

Remember BENGHAZI!
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am one of those vets and Burr is my senator. Now while it might seem minor dependent pay is part of the disability package, but not awarded at the time of disability they pay at the single rate until you fill out a separate claim form for dependent pay, list all marriages divorces and deaths with proof Even while when I paid copay the counted my wife's salary. I sent in that form 15 months ago just received word they transferred the claim to Nashville, TN,so it goes to the bottom of their stack. Also most of the VA employes do their job and then the VA contracts a second option from an outside contractor "QTC" a division of Lockheed. Then may or my not use their opinion. In the case of a second claim QTC submitted their report in December and the claim is still in the second stage with the decision now 6 months overdue.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank God this disgrace is finally getting exposed to the light of day; this has been hidden from the public for generations. Harald stated, "Sometimes I think they hope the vet will die before his claim is settled." 100% ACCURATE - untold numbers of veterans HAVE died still waiting for benefits that were never going to come while scores of other veterans have given up in disgust - tired of fighting the insipid, brain dead nincompoops that infest almost every VA hospital and regional veteran's center.

As a nation, we have promised every brave patriot that VOLUNTEERED (or were drafted when the draft was necessary) that should they be wounded/injured during their service to our nation, that they would be cared for as needed to ensure a minimal quality of life. A significant contributing factor in the tragic number of suicides among veterans is the hopelessness and anger derived from having doors slammed in their faces - refusal of psychiatric medical care, incompetent medical care, living with constant chronic pain from physical injuries, and racist attitudes within many VA hospitals.

The VA is simply a federal job program for minorities. African Americans currently encompass roughly 13% of the nation's population, yet every hospital I have ever been in is staffed by more than 50% blacks. Black veterans are routinely treated better than whites. I wish some investigation would ensue as to whether black veterans are approved for benefits at a much higher rate than non-black veterans...I have been confronted with racism at ever turn in the VA system.

Doctors that work for the VA routinely have malpractice charges pending from state agencies and cannot get a job anywhere else but the VA (Nurses as well). I AM NOT SAYING ALL DOCTORS OR NURSES as some of them are entirely competent and compassionate professionals, I am simply stating that many of them are not. The VA is the model system for Obamacare....wake up America!

Remember Benghazi!
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
There's no mystery here.

We have lazy, uncaring, uneducated dolts working in most of these offices, and some of the offices are worse than others. Civil service rules and political correctness make it almost impossible to fire these people, and they are set up to punish anybody who tries to make improvements.

Any individual worker who is conscientious soon finds him or herself under attack, often by management as well as by rank and file.

The rules of PC forbid me from pointing out that the worst offices (like Baltimore) are staffed almost entirely with people from one culture, a thoroughly dysfunctional culture which despises hard work, education, and personal responsibility. It's a culture of entitlement, and it's an overwhelmingly racist and anti-authority culture. In getting a gubermint job, they know they have a good thing, and they aren't going to let anybody upset the gravy train.

"Those interested in reform should visit the claims offices performing well in addition to the ones performing miserably and sit down, open files, and talk to staff "


Reagan did that in California when he was governor. He visited the welfare offices and talked to the rank and file. My mother was one of those. Then he went back to Sacramento and did all he could to implement their ideas - GOOD ideas.

The Democrats blocked him at every turn.

Anyone who does the same with the VA will find that the Democrats will block him at ever turn.

In providing gullible voters with a gubermint job, they know they have a good thing, and they aren't going to let anybody upset the gravy train.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
The VA, like all bureaucracies, operates this way on purpose. They have rules and procedures in place that are designed to slow things down. Sometimes I think they hope the vet will die before his claim is settled.

For example, I went to the VA Hospital in Dublin GA a while back (I'm a Desert Storm vet and there is a lprogram for us) and spent all day there getting x-rays, EKGs, blood and urine samples, etc. Dublin is 50 miles from where I live; my regular doctor is 4 miles away. Why am I traveling that far when my own doctor is 4 miles away and he can easily do an EKG, x-rays, etc.? To add to that, the Dublin VA folks wanted me to get a physical done at the outreach clinic in Perry GA two weeks later. Are you telling me that all the stuff I did in Dublin wasn't a physical? Or that my own doctor couldn't do a physical and forward the paperwork to the VA? And then to add to the fun, the VA wanted to give me drugs for high blood pressure and GERD, which I already get from my own doctor. I said "no, I already get those from my doctor". And a week later, what shows up in my mailbox? Yep, drugs from the VA. Apparently, they not only can't understand "no" but they have the money to waste sending me drugs I don't need.

The fix isn't money; its changing the rules. But that won't happen.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
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