VCS Recommendations to Fix VA
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, “Claims Summit”
March 18, 2010
Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) offers the following five recommendations to fix the enormous backlog of one million veterans’ disability compensation and pension claims now under review at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), two sub-agencies within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
VCS applauds the efforts of Chairman Bob Filner and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee for addressing this important issue. VCS thanks and offers to work with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki as he fixes both VBA and BVA this year.
1. Improve Transparency. Before substantive reform can begin, VCS urges VA to reveal the serious depth and scope of the claims crisis at VBA and BVA. VA leaders must admit the disability claim backlog is one million. VA leaders must also admit it takes five to six months to process a veteran’s original disability claim, and another four or five years to decide a veteran’s appealed disability claim.
2. New Leaders. VCS urges VA Secretary Shinseki to hire a new team of VBA and VBA leaders and then move them from 1800 G Street to 810 Vermont Avenue so they work closely with other top VA leaders to create a veteran-focused claim system.
3. Maintain Current System while Designing New System. VCS urges VBA and BVA leaders to take a two-track approach to reform. First, VA must maintain the current system so it doesn’t collapse under the influx of additional claims due to new regulations for Agent Orange-related conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Gulf War illness. Second, VA leaders must simultaneously design an entirely new claim processing system using new technology such as the lifetime service record currently under development. Any new system should be automated using a one-page claim form and have a detailed timeline to eliminate the backlog. VCS urges VBA to place more VBA claims adjudication staff at VA medical facilities in order to provide friendly face-to-face assistance as well as to streamline appointments for claim examinations.
4. Expand Legal Representation. VCS urges Congress to allow veterans to retain competent, certified legal representation at the initial claim level at VBA.
5. Hire Our Veterans. VCS urges VBA and BVA to hire more veterans, especially our disabled veterans. More than one-in-five of our returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are unemployed. VCS opposes outsourcing VA’s claims processing.