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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Denny Boller, National Service Director, Spring 2012 American Veteran Column

How to Break the Backlog, Part 2

In the last issue we were examining ways that the VA can and will ultimately break the backlog of claims, however there was one item that we were not able to cover: the VA’s new eight-week Challenge Training. This occurred because the training day we attended at the Baltimore VA Regional Office was not scheduled until after the magazine editor’s deadline for this article. I attended the training on Dec. 6, so I can now tell you about this very important component of the VA’s claims backlog reduction plan.

In the past, training for new employees consisted of a few weeks of centralized training followed by on-the-job training at their new VA regional office.  Some ROs did a fine job of training their new employees, but some did an adequate to marginal job and others, to be generous, have difficulties and insurmountable challenges in the training of their new employees. This area was identified and targeted for improvement.

There have been too many disparities in the training standards between the VA ROs across the nation.  This results in having no consistency in decision ratings for the same condition. Some parts of the nation are noted for liberal (high) ratings, some for consistently accurate ratings, and the others for low ball ratings.  This lack of consistency has been an issue raised by all the veterans’ service organizations, Congress, and the press for many years.  We, the VSOs, have been recommending more centralized training rather than OJT for years and finally the VA has listened.

The training that I saw on Dec. 6 was impressive. The students were rating actual claims, which would never have occurred in the past. Instead, students would rate a few sample claims.  Today, they are given real claims that do not have numerous issues, considered easy claims by an experienced rater.  In order to prevent errors, the decisions are reviewed for accuracy by experienced raters.

I also sat in several work groups that discussed rating issues and peer review of cases.  The questions proved relevant and thought provoking, and the students demonstrated both a sincere desire to learn their new career/job well and do the very best job possible with rating our veterans’ claims for benefits. The course curriculum is comprehensive and well thought out.  There are daily reviews and weekly tests to ensure that the material is learned, but most importantly, truly understood.   

And now for the really interesting and surprising part of this story: new personnel are not the only ones to attend this training.  Experienced raters and even decision review officers are also going through the training.

All the students and staff comments that I heard regarding the course were very positive and I echo them. I did not hear one negative comment. 

Kudos must be given to the Veterans Benefits Administration and Under Secretary Hickey for this major redirection of the VBA’s training program.  It will take carefully planned, innovative, well supported and expertly executed new programs such as the eight-week Challenge Training to break the claims backlog.

If you are in a period of crisis and need to talk with someone, don’t go at it alone. Make a call that is confidential to the folks at the Veterans’ Crisis Line: 800-273-TALK (8255), Press 1.  They are available 24/7/365.  Brother, sister, you are not alone. There is help to get you through this – call them. Or you can use the veterans chat line, which is there for you 24/7.  The URL is

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