(WASHINGTON) – The American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE, today testified before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. The hearing was scheduled to discuss the “State of the Veterans Benefits Administration”.
AFGE and its National Veterans Affairs Council, NVAC, are the exclusive representatives of frontline employees of the Veterans Benefits Administration, VBA, and have unique insights into how the VBA system can be improved. The testimony was delivered by Molly Ames, a Rating Veterans Service Representative, RVSR, from the VBA Regional Office in San Diego, CA, and a member of AFGE Local 490.
In testimony, Ames expressed considerable frustration with the VBA’s continued delays in implementing key provisions of the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008, P.L. 110-389, which could significantly reduce the current claims inventory and ensure that claims are processed correctly the first time. “We worked in significant ways to help develop the legislation aimed at getting the current claims backlog under control,” said Ames, “but we are troubled by the VBA’s continued stubbornness in implementing its policies, including VBA’s current exclusion of frontline employees and their representatives on its implementation.
“When the legislation was initially drafted and passed by the Congress, members understood that input from frontline employees was essential in tackling the challenges faced by the agency. Unfortunately, we have not seen that come to pass on the ground,” Ames said. “We encourage members of the Subcommittee to increase the frequency of their site visits to VBA Regional Offices, so that they may meet with employees and their representatives to get an accurate picture of what is and is not working on the front lines,” said Ames.
AFGE also is disappointed at the VA’s use of higher production standards for employees who work at home. “It is arbitrary and unfair to set higher production quotas for employees who work at home” said Ames. “The VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals realized that higher standards for flexplace employees were counterproductive; it makes no sense for the VA to continue this practice at VBA.” She also noted that differential treatment of employees working at home “is particularly troubling because there is limited space in the VBA regional offices due to the recent influx of new employees to tackle the claims backlog.”
In reference to the flawed work credit system, Ames said that the arbitrary performance standards are adding undue pressure to an already strained system. “The constant threat of termination places additional stress on a workforce that is struggling to comply with arbitrary increases in production requirements that do not reflect the complexity of the work performed,” Ames added.
AFGE also reports that despite the Executive Order issued by the White House in December 2009, mandating regional and local labor-management forums, local AFGE union officers report that at many VBA Regional Offices labor-management relationships have deteriorated significantly.
“Far too many Regional Office managers lack the appropriate expertise to carry out the necessary quality assurance requirements,” said Ames “Faced with mounting pressure, these managers have resorted to cutting corners that hide the size and scope of the backlog.” In order to address these shortcomings, AFGE advocates that managers receive skills certification training and testing as required under, P.L. 110-389.