(OAKLAND, Calif.)-The American Federation of Government Employees today called for increased staffing and improved training for supervisors and disability claim representatives working at the California Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) offices following a recent report by the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG), which found that mismanagement and improper training, has led to a substantial claims backlog at California´s three processing centers.
"This report confirms what we´ve been hearing from our members for years," said AFGE National President John Gage. "We have been advocating for increased staffing to handle the influx of claims from our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and up until now our requests have fallen on deaf ears. The larger problem at these facilities is management officials are unqualified to assist with veterans´ increasingly complex claims for conditions such as PTSD, traumatic brain injury and Agent Orange. As a result, claim reps don´t have adequate back up when problems arise to maintain efficient workflow."
In addition to fighting for increased staffing and training, AFGE has led the fight against the agency´s use of contractors, such as ACS Government Systems, to address the backlog issue. The VA has entered into a contract for $54 million for claims processing work by a company with no experience in VA benefits claims and a questionable track record that threatens the jobs of government employees, many of whom are veterans. The VA has yet to respond to a letter from members of the House of Representatives requesting a cost-comparison study or other justification for outsourcing veterans´ jobs to an inexperienced contractor. AFGE has argued that instead of pouring money into contractors with a troubled history of fulfilling their end of the bargain, this level of investment should be used to support the VA´s current workforce.
"I have visited these facilities and our public servants are facing dire working conditions. They are forced to do more with less," said AFGE 12th District National Vice President Eugene Hudson Jr. "Many of the folks working in these offices are veterans who are also disabled and therefore have first-hand knowledge of the weaknesses in the current claims process. We can eliminate this backlog if the agency would allocate the proper resources and training. Far too often the claims process is held up by management officials trying to appease external forces."