WASHINGTON, D.C.—A report released this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlights the lack of resources experienced by employees of the Veterans Benefits Administration as they attempt to process an increasing load of claims with a workforce slated for cuts.
“This sad state of affairs demonstrates the apparent disregard the Administration has for the needs of soldiers returning from combat to re-enter civilian life,” said John Gage
, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
The GAO report, titled Claims Processing Problems Persist and Major Performance Improvements May Be Difficult
, notes that, despite progress made in reducing pending claims in fiscal years 2002 and 2003, significant ground has been lost since then. In fiscal 2003, the VBA closed the year with 254,000 pending claims. Today, the Benefits Administration has a backlog of 340,000 claims, a number that stands only to increase as more soldiers return from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The current budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) calls for a cut of about 78 full-time positions in the VBA, which processes claims for all veterans’ benefits, including medical claims.
“VA workers are told to do more with less each year,” Gage explained. “In the end, everybody gets shortchanged: the veteran, the worker and the American taxpayer. Anybody can stick a yellow ribbon on the trunk of their car. If people really want to support the troops, they’ll demand full funding of the VA. It’s the least we can do for those who put their lives on the line in the name of freedom.”