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Congressman Calls On Top Va Official To Resign Over Benefits Backlog


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Congressman calls on top VA official to resign over benefits backlog

By Leo Shane III

Stars and Stripes

Published: March 20, 2013

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers frustrated over worsening waits by veterans for overdue benefits claims have begun targeting Veterans Affairs workers and leaders, saying someone needs to be held accountable.

On Wednesday, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., called for the department’s top benefits administrator, Undersecretary Allison Hickey, to step down over the lack of the improvement in the claims backlog.

Last week, the top Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee threatened to cut off funding to the department’s headquarters staff unless improvements are made. Lawmakers from both committees questioned whether any underperforming employees have been reprimanded or fired for the continued failure of the system.

“There are many people losing patience as we continue to hear the same excuses from VA about increased workload and increased complexity of claims,” Miller said at a hearing Wednesday. “Without better workload or surge capacity planning, I fear that VA is simply one national mission away from complete collapse and utter failure.”

Nearly 900,000 veterans compensation and disability claims are currently pending with the department, and about 630,000 of those have been in the system for more than four months.

That backlog has steadily worsened over the last few years, despite VA promises last summer that the numbers would improve by now and the department’s stated goal of erasing the overdue claims in 2015.

The department processed more than 1 million veterans claims each of the last three years, but still saw the number of overdue files increase.

Hickey, who did not directly respond to Miller’s calls for her resignation, told both committees that the department has turned a corner on the backlog, and expects to see progress over the next two years.

She credited new processing technology and techniques, better electronic records sharing, and increased training and staffing to handle the problem.

“We have achieved momentum with our transformation plan that will improve how veterans’ benefits are delivered for generations to come, and 2013 is the year of full deployment and change,” she told lawmakers.

But lawmakers and veterans groups questioned that.

Officials from the VFW — who defended Hickey and dismissed calls for her resignation — said they doubt 2015 is a realistic time line to eliminate the backlog. Leaders from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America called for a presidential commission on the issue, an idea several members of Congress have backed.

VA officials said they have worked closely with veterans service organizations to plot out fixes. New rules which allow those groups to submit “fully developed” claims on behalf of veterans are designed to help dramatically reduce the wait times and simplify the process.

Still, even supporters of the department’s changes expressed frustration over the pace of progress. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said he supports the VA’s current path but “we’ve got to get it done already. Sometime in the next few months, we need to break this thing.”

Hickey said she understood the skepticism, but said she is confident that the department can reach that 2015 goal.

Twitter: @LeoShane

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5 answers to this question

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While I can easily blame VA officials and internal policy for the delays, To me, the real problem is that the under-laying law and VA regulations, and the implementation are to blame.

The primary responsibility is with Congress.

Things that Congress can do that will force a "sea change" in how the handles veteran's claims.

Require that the production, production, production award scheme be eliminated or downplayed in favor of accuracy and timely claims resolution within one year or less.

Compensate veterans for delays in payment of claims, with the payment coming from any and all VA "award program funds", or other VA administrative funds.

Make management awards based upon the award levels paid to "the workers".

Set monetary limits on VA "bonus" awards, based upon the average per veteran payments authorized in the current and past year at the cognizant VARO. Awards may not be based upon a "cost of living area", since veteran's compensation is not.

Production with an accuracy level below reasonable limits makes involved management ineligible for awards or bonus programs.

The failure of the VA to promptly (within 30 days or so) complete a "C&P" properly removes any requirement for a "C&P" on an otherwise "fully developed claim".

C&P results based upon a marginally qualified C&P examiner will be ignored in favor of a IMO from a fully qualified doctor. A marginally qualified examiner is one without board certification and/or license to practice in the appropriate specialty.

Edited by Chuck75

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I think it is about time that someone took the fall on this one. We know the administration is most known for buck passing, so why not just get it over with and think of the veterans. Get somebody to get on top of things. Tell Shinseki, and Hickey to take a walk, and reorganize the VA, and at the same time start working the claims. Do not base claims are to be decided by how old they are. That will create more backlog. VA personnel need to be shifted around where the less experienced get the easier claims, have a TDIU team and only work TDIUs. Stop the banquets, conventions, brainstorming meetings, and get with it.

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I think that a resignation would be in order.

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There needs to be some interim relief for broken and battered veterans dealing with The Machine who are additionally stressed by financial struggles in the unacceptable wait line.

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