In 2008, President Obama vowed to fix the VA claims backlog. Instead, it grew 2,000 percent in just four years.
When General Eric Shinseki was confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), he pledged to streamline the claims process. The VA promises the backlog will be resolved by 2015.
Yet, after all of these promises, there remain close to 760,000 pending claims and almost 62 percent are in the backlog.
Monday’s Washington Post reports that despite the benefits backlog, VA gave two-thirds of the claims processors $5.5 million in bonuses in 2011 despite a 155 percent increase in the claims backlog. VA employees fear the aggressive push to eliminate all year-old claims by October 1st and the entire backlog by 2015 will emphasize quantity over quality.
I served 20 years as a U.S. Marine. No medal was awarded until after a mission was complete. No bonuses were ever granted for exceptional performance. Doing our job at the highest level ensured we would see our next promotion. Yet somehow, the government agency that represents veterans rewards their employees who haven’t resolved a serious problem that faces our veterans today.
Obviously, the promises made by the President and Secretary Shinseki have been broken. The VA needs a dramatic overhaul to ensure efficiency and a reasonable turnaround for those veterans who have sacrificed so much for their country.
Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) realizes the VA is trying to push the claims through quickly. But we wonder if this rapid-fire method will just end up shuffling numbers from “first time claims filers” into “supplemental claims filers” as seen in their Monday Morning Workload report.
Will VA push their employees to rush through and give claims a rating to reduce the backlog, but at the expense of accuracy? This approach will only result in an increase in future appeals. It isn’t solving the problem if veterans have to file an appeal when they are assigned an unjust or inaccurate rating.
While VA has reportedly made progress in trimming the backlog, we must question how the department was able to process most of its two-year-old claims in just 60 days. If two months was all VA needed to adjudicate these claims, why did the VA let them sit for such long periods of time and create a backlog in the first place?
VA employees are working overtime to resolve the backlog, but what will happen to future claims once VA employees are taken off of mandatory overtime and returned to regular duties? Without key improvements in streamlining the process, there is no evidence that this problem won’t reveal itself again after 2015.
Funding is not the problem; the VA has the second largest budget after the Department of Defense, and Congress substantially increased investment in VA over the last five years (by an additional $25 billion). Yet the department has failed to automate its services and has continued to give out bonuses to senior managers.
When it comes to ensuring the VA has complete success eliminating the benefits backlog, the only numbers that matter are zero and 2015. This means the backlog must be at zero by 2015, just as VA leaders promised.