Legion testifies on VA Regional Office performance

Featured in Legislative Center
Legion testifies on VA Regional Office performance
Legislative Division Deputy Director Ian de Planque presented the Legion's testimony. Craig Roberts

At a June 2 congressional hearing, The American Legion focused its testimony on three areas that need substantial improvement at Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Offices (VAROs): accuracy, efficiency and transparency.

The Legion also echoed a major theme of its previous testimony: VA must force its bureaucratic culture to embrace the value of quality over quantity in the processing of veterans’ disability claims.

“The American Legion believes that accuracy should be paramount, coupled with the timeliness of delivering earned benefits,” Legion panelist Ian de Planque said in his written testimony before the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. “A model Regional Office needs to be error-free and smooth of operation to deliver benefits, to those veterans who have earned them, on time, fairly and consistently.”

De Planque is deputy director of the Legion’s Legislative Division, and an Army National Guard veteran who served in Afghanistan.

Reminding the subcommittee that the Legion conducts annual site visits called the Regional Office Action Review (ROAR) to evaluate the quality of VA claims processing, de Planque explained that the program allows Legion national staff to collect information firsthand on the operating environments at VAROs, as well as the quality of adjudication on veterans’ claims for disability and other benefits.

Citing VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s goal of determining all disability claims within 125 days and achieving a 98-percent accuracy rate by 2015, de Planque told Congress that VA was “moving backwards” in both areas. VA’s backlog of pending cases has risen from 180,000 to more than 290,000. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued May 18 estimates that VAROs are making mistakes in 23 percent of the disability claims they are processing.

VA accuracy in claims processing should be boosted by the new Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) being put into place. De Planque said that while VBMS will help, VA urgently needs to move away from a “culture of purely numbers-driven motivation.”

The efficiency of VAROs was questioned in a September 2009 report made by VA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Referring to a claims backlog of 11,099 cases over a one-year period, the report found that “inefficient VARO workload management caused avoidable processing delays averaging 187 days for a projected 10,046 (90.5 percent) of the 11,099 rating claims.”

De Planque continued that VAROs would improve their efficiency if they used more experienced workers to handle complicated claims, leaving the simpler ones to less seasoned employees. “VA needs to average a certain amount of time per claims to keep up with their inventory and ensure veterans are not getting left behind. With a little triage to help align the claims with the best route to servicing those claims, the average time for all claims can be reduced.”

Implementing such a change would not require “radical systemic overhaul requiring massive changes on behalf of VA, and taking years and studies to develop a plan to implement,” de Planque told the subcommittee. “This can be initiated with relative swiftness, and can start having immediate impact, and The American Legion urges VA to consider this addition, as they are already in the transformative process of installing VBMS in all offices.”

As a way to improve VA transparency, the Legion has suggested many times that the tracking of VARO accuracy rates should be added to the agency’s Monday-morning workload reports, and placed online for all the world to see.

“Put quite simply,” de Planque said, “it seems apparent VA is tracking what is important to VA, and that is solely the number of claims processed by each station and the number of claims received. If VA states they are committed to reducing error rates, they ought to start publishing those error rates in a place and manner easy to find and be understood.”

In his concluding remarks, de Planque emphasized that VA employees must be held more accountable for the quality of their work, and that easily avoidable errors made by VA employees often create serious problems for veterans and their families. “The lack of consequence for failure does not extend to the veteran on the street, however, and perhaps therein lies the greatest tragedy.”

More in Legislative Center

 

Tom Midget

June 15, 2011 - 8:38pm

I came to this site looking for some sign of hope that the Legion might be doing something to convey to supervising officials the importance of claims being decided correctly and in a timely manner. I keep reading about how the VA is taking steps to decrease the number of homeless veterans and various organizations patting themselves on the back about how wonderful they are and what a good job they have done. My question is how many veterans has the VA made homeless by not making a decision on their claims. I

John Miller

June 9, 2011 - 9:19pm

I agree that the Legion has lost its focus on advocating for vets. I was supposed to have medical coverage until enrollment frozen. After 5 years of VA appeals, I was told by the VA that my Blue Medical Enrollment Card was nothing more than an ID card-WHY WOULD I GO TO THE DENVER, COLORADO VA HOSP. IN 1976 AND OBTAIN AN ID CARD???? Bureaucratic double-speak at its best. I don't see that the Legion is doing very much to advocate for those Vets who were promised medical coverage and are now frozen out of the system. In fact, when I had my video hearing with the Adminstrative Law Judge, the Legion's assigned rep. did not show up for the meeting and the when a back-up was located they knew nothing about my appeal. I have a sense that the Legion has positioned itself more as a bed-fellow of Washington politics then as an advocate for Vets-which should be there over riding purpose.

grunt27

June 9, 2011 - 6:49pm

I agree with jacksix. It seems the Legion has lost some of their focus on getting the benefits the veterans in this country have earned. I have been waiting 5 years for an answer concerning an increase for PTSD. My case is in the Houston office and has never left there. It seems I can't get it sent to appeals because of the repeated examinations Houston keeps ordering.Even with an attorney representing me, Houston has still dragged this through every stalling technique they can think of. Why? What have I done to deserve this? Perhaps if the Legion focused on Veterans problems with the VA and less focused on Race cars and baseball, they could get some changes made. I'm unable to work and can barely make it from month to month. I could care less what the Legion is doing at NASCAR or in baseball.

jacksix

June 3, 2011 - 11:28am

Another example of the Legion identifying obvious shortcomings, complaining about it, and not offering any actionable solutions. I guess stuff like this makes good filler for their lobbying soap box. Unfortunately, the Legion is not the Capitol Hill heavyweight it once was, and it hasn't been for some time. But when the VA makes any headway in this area, the Legion will report what great work it did in making it happen. I really appreciate the Legion at the Post level, but the lobbying stuff they do through DC and Indianapolis HQ is full-on Oscar Mayer.

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Tell us what you think