House Minority Leader Calls on Secretary Shinseki for Plan to Improve VA Services
In an open letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, House Speaker John Boehner has detailed a list of failings by the VA under Secretary Eric K. Shinseki’s tenure, and requested a response to a series of questions on the VA’s plans to improve performance within the next 30 days.
Congressman John Boehner (R-OH), who also heads the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, is fed up with his contituents complaining about poor performance by the Department of Veterans Affairs. He has called upon Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
Citing an ‘alarmingly high’ backlog of unprocessed claims, Boehner made the following assertions:
- The Cleveland VARO’s rating claims processing time is 334.2 days, as of February 15th, 2013.
- The current national average is 275.5 days
- The VA has already publicly announced that they had a goal of reducing the VA rating processing time to 125 days by 2015.
- The current nationwide average claim processing time is 272.5 days – an increase of 17.5 percent over the prior 13-month period.
- For the Cleveland, Ohio processing center – notable because it is within Congressman Boehner’s district, wait times have actually increased by 34 percent over the past year.
- The increase has come despite a substantial effort to modernize the Cleveland VA claims tracking and reporting system.
- The total backlog of pending compensation claims has increased from 390,000 in 2009 to more than 821,000 today.
- 71.5 percent of those claims have been pending for 125 days or more.
- The VA error rate is 86.2 percent. The Secretary has announced a goal of 98 percent error free rate. Congresssman Bohner’s office calculates that this translates to about 400,000 claims having been mishandled or wrongly adjudicated on Shinseki’s watch.
- There are currently 251,443 appeals pending, as of February 2013.
For its part, the Veterans Administration has been hit with a tsunami of claims. Nearly half of all Iraq War veterans are presenting to the VA with some issue or other. At the same time, the Viet Nam generation of veterans has entered its peak years of health care consumption. The Veterans Administration noted that it has successfully increased its throughput, processing record numbers of claims each year for the last three fiscal years – with over a million cases resolved in each of those years. Congressman Boehner, however, points out that with an error rate of 13 percent, that creates a different problem of hundreds of thousands of cases cluttering the appeals process – and veterans waiting for their promised benefits.
The VA is also struggling with some front-end problems: Only 3 percent of claims are submitted “fully developed,” according to Tommy Sowers, the VA’s Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.
The VA has also created a blog, VAntage Point, to improve its image among veterans and the public at large.