WASHINGTON – American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Veterans Affairs (VA) Local 1738 Shop Steward Eric Jenkins testified today before the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs’ hearing on evaluating the VA’s performance in the service member transition process. Jenkins’ testimony highlighted changes that should be made to the BDD, Quick Start and IDES programs, including issues with production standards and hiring of claims processors.
“By and large, AFGE members believe that the VA’s processing programs, when functioning properly, are essential for ensuring that service members have a seamless transition to receiving care and benefits as a veteran,” testified Jenkins. “However, improvements to cross-agency communications, the allotted time to process and rate complex claims and the work credit system must be made.”
In his testimony Jenkins explained coordination with claims processors and MSCs is often hindered during the pre-development phase of claims processing because MSCs are often scattered around the world and lack the training needed to deliver claims to Regional Offices ready to rate. This causes a slow-down in the rating process. Similar issues arise when processing National Guard and Reserve claims.
“It is critical that we recognize the various layers in processing veterans benefit claims and strengthen the rating system used to award claims,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “We cannot get caught up in this incessant push to crank out claims and neglect the complexity of the individual attached to each claim. There are meaningful steps we can take to ensure that the process is timely and congruent with serving the needs of our nation’s heroes.”
In an environment pushing for higher production AFGE recommends the agency refocus its efforts on quality over quantity. With the complexity of various claims and programs it is essential that emphasis be placed on gathering all pertinent data, training all entities through hands-on programs and improving the work credit system so that claims processors are evaluated based on all relevant components to the process.
AFGE recommends that Congressional oversight be implemented to improve communications between the Veteran Benefits Administration and Department of Defense, proper training for MSCs, conduct a scientifically based time motion study for the work credit system and adjust production goals accordingly, and take steps to hire additional claims processors.
Jenkins is a 15-year veteran of the Marine Corps, a service-connected veteran and has worked for VBA for nine years.