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Public Statements

Letter to Secretary Shinseki - Reduce VA Backlog Claims in Cleveland & Address Inefficiencies in Current System

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

In advance of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric Shinseki's visit to the Cleveland Regional VA Office today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) sent a letter to Sec. Shinseki expressing his concerns with the newly announced plan to expedite the Veterans Affairs claims backlog by expanding the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) to a total of 36 offices.

In the letter, Portman states he is "hopeful the newly announced expedited processing will provide our veterans more efficient services, but I am still concerned with ongoing issues which impact many veterans in Ohio and nationwide."

VBMS has several issues that put its ability to fully address the soaring number of VA backlog claims, specifically the backlog in the Cleveland Regional Office, in question. Portman points out that "VBMS is not entirely operational and there are still components of the system that are not fully developed and functionalÂ…its capability to process claims from initial application through review, rating and award, to benefits delivery could not be evaluatedÂ…[and] the VBMS system has been taken offline for repairs, citing significant glitches in the new system, and the VA has not yet found an effective way to compile and respond to those errors."

Citing these concerns, Portman asks the VA, "In light of these issues, why is the VA fielding VBMS to all Regional Offices concurrent with conducting seemingly fundamental system development activities? Have problems developed in fielding and what is being done to correct these problems? Furthermore, what metrics are in place to evaluate VBMS effectiveness?"

By working with the Cleveland office and taking a firsthand look at the issue, Portman is hopeful that Sec. Shinseki can find a commonsense solution to address these issues, stating "the men and women working for our veterans in Cleveland are dedicated public servants and I hope working together we can give them the tools and resources necessary to be successful and help fulfill our commitment to caring for our veterans."

The full text of the letter is below. Read a signed copy here.

April 30, 2013

Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary
United States Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW, Room 500
Washington D.C. 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

I am writing to follow up on our previous correspondence regarding the Veterans Affairs claims backlog. I am hopeful the newly announced expedited processing will provide our veterans more efficient services, but I am still concerned with ongoing issues which impact many veterans in Ohio and nationwide. In particular, I am concerned with the fielding of the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) and the implementation of the Transformation Plan at the Cleveland Regional Office.

In testimony on April 15, 2013 before the Senate Veterans Committee, Under Secretary Allison Hickey and you testified that the VBMS had, as of April 22, 2013, been rolled out to 30 VA Regional Offices and that you expected to have it in a total of 36 offices by weeks end. While this news sounds promising, I understand that VBMS is not entirely operational and there are still components of the system that are not fully developed and functional. Furthermore, the VA Inspector General found in a February 4, 2013 Audit (Review of Transition to a Paperless Claims Processing Environment) that VBMS was still in early phases of development, and its capability to process claims from initial application through review, rating and award, to benefits delivery could not be evaluated. I understand that no claim has been processed from start to finish in VBMS. Additionally, according to an April 9, 2013 report in Stars and Stripes, the VBMS system has been taken offline for repairs, citing significant glitches in the new system, and the VA has not yet found an effective way to compile and respond to those errors.
In light of these issues, why is the VA fielding VBMS to all Regional Offices concurrent with conducting seemingly fundamental system development activities? Have problems developed in fielding and what is being done to correct these problems? Furthermore, what metrics are in place to evaluate VBMS effectiveness?

Additionally, what steps have been taken to ensure the VA is adequately estimating current and future VBMS costs? What do you project as the necessary funding to completely develop, field and sustain this system?

On September 12, 2012, I sent a letter to you regarding the VA backlog of claims, specifically citing the backlog in the Cleveland Regional Office, which at the time had 24,000 pending claims, of which 17,700 (74%) were pending more than 125 days. You responded on December 28, 2012 outlining the benefits of the Transformation Plan that was enacted in Cleveland in July of 2012. You also mentioned the VBMS system, which was fielded in Cleveland in November of 2012, as being a crucial component to reducing this backlog. As of April 22, 2013 in the Cleveland Regional Office, there are 25,430 claims for benefits, with 19,062 (75%) pending more than 125 days -- higher than the current national average. Additionally, I understand that the average claim pending in Cleveland is now 336 days old. Since the Transformation Plan was enacted in Cleveland nine months ago and VBMS fielded five months ago, the backlog has climbed as well as the number of days pending. What metrics are in place to review whether the Transformation Plan is effective and what tools or resources are needed to ensure success at this stage?

I am pleased to hear that you are visiting the Cleveland office to get a firsthand look at these issues. As I'm sure you will find, the men and women working for our veterans in Cleveland are dedicated public servants and I hope working together we can give them the tools and resources necessary to be successful and help fulfill our commitment to caring for our veterans.

I appreciate your time and attention to this matter and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Rob Portman


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