VBA 'inventory' drops to 390,000

Patrick W. Dunne, the Veterans Benefits Administration’s acting undersecretary for benefits, reported he expects a more than 5 percent increase in the number of overall claims submitted by veterans, from 855,000 in fiscal 2008, to as many as 883,000 for fiscal 2009.

Veterans will be happy to know, however, that after adding more than 2,700 new employees to the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) payroll, the time spent processing veterans’ claims has dropped from 183 days to – sit down if you must –182 days.

On the bright side, as of the end of May, Dunne told committee members, the VBA’s “inventory” had been reduced to a mere 390,000 claims backlogged. Yep. We don’t even qualify as veterans any more. We’ve been reduced to inventory.

Dunne, by the way, is a retired Navy rear admiral. Go figure.

Speaking on behalf of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) was Kerry Baker, the group’s associate national legislative director.

Baker asked lawmakers to remove procedural roadblocks in the appeals process, noting how lengthy (he’s correct) the process is. Now, if I could just understand what the hell he was talking about.

Committee members were told: NOD to receipt of SOC – 213 days – VARO; SOC issuance to receipt of VA Form 9 – 44 days – appellant; receipt of VA Form 9 to certification to the Board – 531 days –VARO; receipt of certified appeal to Board decision – 273 days – Board; total –1,061 days from NOD to Board decision – sadly, many are much longer.

God love the DAV for what they do for veterans, but huh? Would the average veteran understand what Baker’s talking about?

To be fair, the transcript supplied on the committee’s Web site explained the abbreviations, but why not speak in plain language, perhaps something like this: “Mr. Chairman, the claims process is entirely too *&^$#* long and we have more veterans dying every (&#[email protected] day. How long is it going to take to %$#@&*% this $%@#$% process? Thank you for taking the time to hear our concerns.”

Is it just me, or did I get my point across in three sentences?

Next up on the dais was J. David Cox, the national secretary-treasure of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO.

This irritates me on a couple of fronts. First, never trust anyone not willing to use their first name. What’s the worst it could be; John, Joshua or Jamal?

What’s worse is his reason for appearing before the committee. Oh sure, he began his little fireside chat with the efforts of his union members to ensure veterans are well cared for. But eventually, Cox got around to the real reason his was there: money and benefits for the rank and file.

The “production quality and workplace morale” would be greatly enhanced if there was a “collaborative environment” between management and employees.

Cox also pleaded with the committee to make veterans service representatives’ career ladder more competitive, noting employees can only rise to the level of a GS-10 unless they pass a skills certification test. In other words, Cox is urging the VBA to pay higher salaries without having to prove they can do the job.

I can’t argue with wanting more money. Who doesn’t? To paraphrase Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, if offered, I will accept; if given, I will not return it. But the purpose of the hearing was to review undue delays in processing claims, and not to conjure up a Dickensian image of Oliver, begging, “Please, sir. I want some more.”

The cast of characters didn’t end with Cox, but it would take up too much space to continue. The facts are simple: the VBA’s claim process takes too long. Veterans, particularly those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder need help immediately, not some time in the future.

I realize dealing with the VA can be a Byzantine experience. The cure to the lengthy waiting period is not as simple as, “Here’s a check. Have a nice day.” But I dare say if the process was discussed in simple language, it might translate to shorter decision times.

Bruce Coulter is the editor of the Burlington Union and a retired, disabled veteran. He may be reached at 978-371-5775, or by e-mail at [email protected]

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