A report released today by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reveals that new training initiatives for VA employees who process and evaluate Veterans' disability claims are yielding faster, more accurate decisions for Veterans.
"Our training and technology skills programs are now delivering the knowledge and expertise our employees need to succeed in a 21st Century workplace," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "We have improved and are expanding training practices to better equip our staff to handle today's difficult cases."
In the face of dramatically increasing workloads, VA is vigorously pursuing new and better ways to train its employees in the complex regulations governing VA's disability compensation program.
Designers of the revamped "Challenge" training model for new decision-makers overhauled the previous curriculum and more than doubled classroom instruction time to eight weeks. Extensive supervised and hands-on learning was added to enable employees to rapidly achieve critical skills and competencies.
Students of the new model completed 150 percent more claims per day, with a 30 percent increase in accuracy, when compared to student performance under the previous program. To date, more than 1,300 employees have taken the training, which is now in place for all newly appointed or reassigned employees who handle disability claims.
VA has completed a record-breaking 1 million claims per year the last two fiscal years, and is on target to complete another 1 million claims in FY2012. Even so, too many Veterans have to wait too long to get the benefits they have earned and deserve. That is why VA is aggressively building a strong foundation for a paperless, digital disability claims system -- a lasting solution that will transform how VA operates and eliminate the backlog. This plan will help VA achieve Secretary Shinseki's goal: claim completion in less than 125 days with 98 percent accuracy in 2015 -- delivering faster, better decisions for Veterans.
Redesign of the Challenge program is just one part of VA's comprehensive investment in its people. VA has also added Quality Review Teams at each of its 56 regional offices to quickly identify any processing errors made by its employees and provide on-the-spot remedial training at the earliest possible stage in the claims process.
Members of the Quality Review Teams are trained by VA's national quality assurance staff to ensure local reviews are performed according to national standards. Team members are also certified in management and leadership approaches. Since implementation earlier this year, the teams have already conducted nearly 60,000 in-process reviews, and decision quality levels are showing significant and steady increases as a result.
VA has also developed a skills certification process to assess employees' job proficiency in comparison to national performance standards. Employees who process claims for disability benefits can now link their certification test results to individualized training plans and promotion criteria. This allows VA to target employee training to improve disability claims accuracy at both the individual and national level. "Through the national certification program, we are raising the skill levels of our core decision-makers and producing greater consistency in claims decisions," said VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey.
To learn more about what VA is doing to prepare its employees to deliver first-rate and timely benefits and services to our Nation's Veterans, view the full Challenge report at: http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/docs/Evaluation-Report.pdf.