WASHINGTON – AFGE Local 1738 Shop Steward Eric Jenkins testified on Feb. 5 before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs regarding the current state of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) benefit claims processing technology. Jenkins’ testimony focused on greater communication between AFGE and the agency regarding improving the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), the impact of frequent system shutdowns on the ability to process veterans’ claims in a timely fashion, and improving the agency’s broken work credit system.
“AFGE consistently receives reports from members at regional offices nationwide regarding shutdowns and technical problems with VBMS. We would like to remain a strong partner with the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to improve VBMS to better process claims and to make the system more user friendly,” testified Jenkins. “AFGE requests the establishment of a working group to improve VBMS, which would include AFGE, management and Veterans Service Organizations’ (VSOs) stakeholders.” AFGE also recommends that VBA develop a contingency plan that will maintain productivity and credit employees working via alternate systems when VBMS is shutdown.
The union is also critical of the current work credit system that is not based on data and does not accurately account for the complexities associated with the claims process. Feedback from AFGE members indicates that the current system deprives work credit for numerous required tasks, increases workplace stress, puts pressure on employees to rush through claims, and devalues the importance of evaluating claims on their individual merits.
“The absence of a valid work credit system exacerbates the well documented problem of VBA managers manipulating backlog data to improve performance measures,” said Jenkins. “Veterans who fought for this nation deserve to have their claims processed in an accurate and timely manner.”
AFGE urges the committee to adopt the approach set forth by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders that would establish a working group tasked with evaluating and recommending changes to the current work credit system based on data.
Jenkins is a 15-year veteran of the Marine Corps, a service-connected veteran and has worked for VBA for nine years.
Jenkins' full testimony can be found here: http://veterans.house.gov/witness-testimony/mr-eric-jenkins.
View photos of Jenkins' testimony on Flickr.