(WASHINGTON) – The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents employees throughout the Department of Veterans Affairs, (VA) today, offered several recommendations before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on tackling the enormous Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) claims backlog.
Among the recommendations provided by the union, first and foremost, was a call for permanent leadership. “Now is the time to appoint a permanent Undersecretary for the Veterans Benefits Administration,” said J. David Cox, AFGE national secretary-treasurer and former VA nurse.
The VBA, which has been inundated with benefits claims from service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, is facing a monumental challenge to deliver services in a timely manner. To address these systemic challenges AFGE worked closely with congressional leaders to enact legislation, P.L. 110-389, to modernize the VBA’s disability claims process by improving quality assurance, certification and training procedures, and overhauling the current work credit and work management system.
“The Veterans Benefits Improvement Act (P.L. 110-389), provides many valuable tools that will significantly reduce inventory,” said Cox. “AFGE has been frustrated with VBA’s inability to fully enact the reforms presented in the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act. The urgency of putting these tools into practice grows greater with each new claim in the queue. We are facing a crisis. We need to stop rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.”
“VBA employees are committed to ensuring that veterans receive the benefits they deserve, but current VBA leaders are unwilling to commit to their employees by providing adequate training to master the complex skill of processing claims,” said Cox. “All too often, after initial training employees are routinely denied ‘excluded time’ for training and are pushed into the production line prematurely,” Cox said.
AFGE also urged the Committee to ensure that VBA managers, as well as, frontline employees are provided the proper training to accurately process claims the first time. Unfortunately, as is common now, managers without sufficient expertise are unable to carry out quality assurance duties, leading to greater errors, which in turn lead to greater delays. Therefore, it is critical that managers pass the same certification tests required of senior claims processors.
As it has done previously AFGE continues to recommend that VBA develop an accurate work credit system that could lay the foundation for an effective work credit system. To date, VBA has not adjusted individual employee production standards to reflect the increasing complexity and difficulty of the claims process. These production standards should be a reasonable reflection of how much an employee can be expected to perform with an acceptable level of accuracy.