(WASHINGTON) – This week, John McCray, a rating veterans service representative (RVSR) at the Veterans Benefits Administration, (VBA) in the Los Angeles Regional Office, testified on behalf of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) at a hearing held before the House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs. The hearing was aimed at updating Congress on the implementation on the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act, P.L. 110-389.
The VBA, which has been inundated with benefits claims from service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, is facing a monumental challenge in delivering services in a timely manner. To address these systemic challenges, AFGE has 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 an inventory of one million claims by getting each claim processed accurately the first time,” said McCray. “The urgency of putting these tools into practice grows greater with each new claim in the queue.”
“VBA is under intense pressure to tackle the mounting claims backlog and ensure that every veteran’s claim is processed timely and accurately,” said McCray. “VBA employees are committed to ensuring that veterans receive the benefits they deserve, but you can’t get blood from a turnip.” VBA has been hampered in its ability to effectively reduce the backlog because far too many employees lack the appropriate training necessary to master the complex skill of processing claims.
AFGE urges VBA to ensure that 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. AFGE is troubled that VBA may be considering excluding senior levels of management – the very officials who have significant fiduciary duties – from the supervisor skills certification requirement.
AFGE also recommends 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.
“As long as employees are subjected to arbitrary and unreasonable production standards, the claims development process will remain flawed by inefficiencies and incomplete claims developments,” said McCray. “The ultimate harm falls upon the veterans, who are deprived of a full, fair and timely consideration of their claims.”