Number of Veterans Waiting 1 Year or Longer for Claims Explodes 2,000 Percent Under Obama

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

VA claims backlog growsThe number of veterans waiting for a year or more to have their claims processed has exploded by 2000 percent since 2009 – the first year of the Obama Administration.

According to internal tracking documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the number claimants waiting 365 days or longer for their claims to be resolved has grown from 11,000 in 2009 to 244,000 as of December 2012.

More than 58,000 veterans are waiting at least two years for claims. And despite publicly-released figures that indicate that the VA takes 273 days to process a claim, internal VA documents indicate that new claims – including those from Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran – are taking an average of 315 days to resolve.

In major population centers, the wait times are frequently double that.

That is the conclusion of an investigative report, VA’s Ability to Process Claims Plummets Under Obama, by Aaron Glantz of the Center for Investigative Reporting. The report was released on March 13th. The massive drag on VA processing times occurred despite the expenditure of over half-a-billion dollars on a new computerized system. 

The picture painted by the newly-obtained internal tracking documents is at variance with the rosier picture painted by VA officials for Congress. The inconsistency prompted HVAC Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) to state that “One of the biggest oversight challenges we’ve encountered is just getting VA to engage in an honest conversation,” according to Glantz’s reporting.

Meanwhile, on the same day Glantz published his story, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee head hearing on the VA backlog, and committee members grilled VA leaders on what was being done to fix the problem.

At the March 13th hearing, Committee Chairperson Sen. Bernie Sanders (Independent – VT) asked Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey for any evidence they had that the VA would be successful in keeping the VA’s own goal of eliminating the backlog by 2015 and pushing claims processing times down to 125 days while maintaining 98 percent accuracy. (The current accuracy rate is 86 percent – meaning that when the VA finally does get round to adjudicating a claim, the adjudication is wrong about 14 percent of the time.)

The Military Officers Association of America describes the exchange further:

VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey testified that the VA’s three-part plan — “people, process, and technology” — will address the problem. She said the VA has increased its training of claims workers, piloted innovations in processes and procedures, and created “quality review teams” to ramp up accuracy and is fielding a fully-automated Veterans Benefits Management System this year that will enable online access to medical and personnel records. 

The House Veterans Affairs Committee held its own hearing on 20 March. The hearings, entitled “Focusing on People: A Review of VA’s Plans for Employee Training, Accountability, and Workload Management to Improve Disability Claims Processing” is unfolding as of this writing. However, undersecretary Hickey’s remarks have been published in advance. In them, she cites a number of obstacles the VA has had to overcome to keep pace with the flood of applicants – over 1.2 million of them last year alone. She also cited a number of improvements:

  • 1,900 new VA employees who have received Challenge Training decide 150 more claims than their predecessors per day – while posting a 30 percent better accuracy rate.
  • Five more “Challenge Training” workshops are scheduled for this year.
  • Lower-performing VA centers have been targeted for extra training under a new program that debuted a year ago. The first regional office that completed the training, called Station Enhancement Training, or SET, has increased the accuracy rating of the first site targeted by about 8 percent, and claims processing throughput by 27 percent. A second regional office completed the program in January and early indications are likewise positive.

Undersecretary Hickey also affirmed that Generation Two of the Veterans Benefits Management System – the software backbone that will hopefully enable the VA to eliminate the backlog and reduce claims processing time to 125 days by 2015 – still seems like it will roll out as scheduled. Version 4.13 was released in January, and as been a success thus far. The undersecretary stated that the system will be rolled out to all 56 offices within the year.

The American Legion also submitted a statement for the record, urging the VA to reform its internal accounting to reward employees and departments for claims correctly completed without errors, and to hire more veterans.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America submitted a statement calling for the President to convene a special commission to eliminate the claims backlog.

During the hearing, a member of the audience sat silently, holding a sign reading “Waiting 7 Years & 3 Months Claim – 2650 Days”

 

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