Today, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing examining the efforts of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to address the nearly 900,000 pending claims from veterans seeking compensation and pension disability benefits. Of the total inventory of claims, 588,011, or 72 percent, have been pending for more than 125 days.
"I'm as frustrated as anyone that this unacceptably high backlog of claims has persisted. It affects our veterans and their families every day, and it must be made a top national priority," said Ranking Member Mike Michaud (ME-02). "But I recognize this didn't happen overnight. I appreciate the efforts and some of the new initiatives that VA has undertaken. But there is no question that VA must do better, and the numbers don't add up for VA to get there by 2015."
In April 2011, it took an average of 182 days for VA to complete a claim. Today, it takes an average of 279 days. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has set a goal of processing all compensation and pension claims received in 125 days at 98% accuracy by 2015. VA is planning to increase staff, undertaken claims processing initiatives, and is currently in the process of rolling out the Veterans' Benefits Management System (VBMS), a business transformation effort that is projected to result in a paperless environment for claims processing and benefits delivery.
During the hearing, Michaud highlighted the fact that VA does not have a good grasp of their actual workload: "VA is counting its workload by the claim, but a single claim could have between one, or one hundred, medical conditions to adjudicate individually. I have sent a letter to Secretary Shinseki asking him to look into adjudicating claims at the medical condition level. High performing VA regional offices, like the Togus, Maine office, could focus on difficult conditions such as TBI, and low performing stations could handle easier medical conditions. Most importantly, veterans should get paid as each medical condition is adjudicated. They shouldn't have to wait years for all the conditions in their entire claim to be completed." Michaud indicated that he believed such an approach is feasible, especially once VBMS is in place in all 56 VA regional offices by June.
"I will do everything I can to help the VA meet its ambitious goals. Congress and the VA must work together to fix this problem, but time is running out and we simply must see real results soon."
Michaud's opening statement from today's hearing can be found here. The attached photo is of the hearing today.