Judiciary subcommittee looks at VA backlog

The American Legion testified March 27 at a Senate hearing that focused on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) backlog and difficulties veterans face in getting timely access to their benefits.

Ian de Planque, the Legion’s deputy legislative director, testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Actions. De Planque told the subcommittee that the average number of days it takes for a VA benefits claims to be processed is currently 163 days – 38 days longer than the 125-day limit that keeps a claim out of backlog status.

Two key concerns The American Legion has about the backlog issue are how VA counts work-credit for its claims adjudicators, and the continued lack of a joint VA-Department of Defense (DoD) electronic health record.

Currently, VA counts work-credit for claims that are completed, regardless of whether they are done properly. “This leads to a natural tendency of workers to cut corners to deal with time stress and pressure to churn out a certain amount of claims per day,” de Planque said in his prepared remarks. The Legion has noted this tendency time and again in its Regional Office Action Review (ROAR) visits.

De Planque told the subcommittee about one VA claims worker he had spoken with – a National Guardsman recently returned from Afghanistan. “He expressed so much frustration with the pressures of the system. Pointing to a thick file, he (VA claims worker) said, 'I have two hours to go through every page of that file. How am I giving that veteran justice?’”

The lack of an interoperable VA-DoD electronic record continues to cause substantial delays in claims processing. “This is the 21st century,” de Planque said. “There’s no reason this information shouldn’t be instantly accessible by both DoD and VA. Instead, after several years and a billion dollars, both sides are still pursuing their own system.”

As stated in Resolution 118, passed during its 2012 National Convention, The American Legion is recommending that VA develop a work-credit system that "not only addresses the quantity of work performed by employees, but also the quality of work performed."

In regards to the electronic health record issue, the Legion stated that Congress must stop the bureaucratic bickering that goes on year after year. “Hold VA and DoD to their commitments, and make clear to them that if they do not honor these commitments, the funds to continue their path of folly” will be eliminated.