The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Senate listens to tesimony on VA claims process

Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs heard testimony from VA, Department of Defense, DAV, and the Government Accountability Office on the VA claims process and progress on mitigating the daunting VA claims backlog.

To view video from yesterday's hearing, Click Here.

To review each witness' written statements, Click Here.

Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of the hearing was the new GAO report highlighting improvements and continued shortcomings in VA's efforts to mitigate the claims backlog, which veterans' advocates believe is approaching one million claims.

The GAO report notes that the VA experienced a dramatic increase in the overall time it takes to process a claim between 2005 and 2007, topping out at 200 days. Over the last year, VA has managed to reign in the average claims-processing time to about 180 days. The GAO believes that the initial increase was due not only to an overall increase in volume of claims resulting from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also because of legislative and policy changes, entitling veterans to a variety of new benefits.

However, the GAO also reported that the overall time for VA to adjudicate claims appeals has actually increased to a time of about 21 months--a number that AMVETS leaders balk at--in spite of the overall number of appeals dropping dramatically. VA claims that repeated submissions of new evidence and multiple pending appeals have exacerbated the situation.

Since 2005, GAO reports that VA has increased its claims-processing personnel by 58 percent, with plans to hire an additional 1,500 employees in the coming year. VA has also relaxed its rules on redistributed claims work, allowing overtaxed regional offices to ship claims to offices capable of handling the workload.

During the hearing, DAV outlined its plan to mitigate the claims backlog, a system that would take full advantage of 21st century technology, with a single point-of-entry for claims, and the capability to digitally track all records which have been submitted. For a full overview of DAV's proposal, Click Here.

The claims backlog is a critical issue to AMVETS and many leaders across the veterans' community. AMVETS encourages veterans seeking service-connected compensation from the VA to visit with a certified veterans' service officer who offer their services free of charge. To view the most up-to-date list of AMVETS National Service Officers on the official AMVETS Web site, Click Here.

American Veteran will continue to follow work on Capitol Hill to ensure that the VA claims backlog is properly addressed. As always, we welcome your comments on this issue.