VA seeks to reduce benefit disparity, backlog of claims

The Veterans Affairs Department has announced a broad effort to smooth differences in disability payments in various regions of the country, as well as reduce the backlog of claims.

The initiative was in response to a VA Inspector General's report that found no clear reason for the disparity in pay across regions and categories of veterans.

The backlog and payment differences are long-standing, and have worsened as more returning soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan file for disability claims, VA said in information materials.

In particular, VA will expand its programs for evaluating documentation post-traumatic stress disorder claims. VA will better coordinate with its health and medical centers to provide more consistent medical examinations to support disability claims, especially for the stress disorder, for which decisions are prone to 'interpretation and judgment,' the IG's report said.

Factors that influence the payment variability are legislated pay increases, an antiquated pay schedule, veterans service organization representation, period of service, military status, age, number of dependents and number of disabilities, Daniel Cooper, VA undersecretary for benefits, said in a letter agreeing with the IG. 'These factors and demographics are outside the control of our decision-makers,' he said.

But VA has more control over improving its claims processing time. The department has developed applications to speed claims processing cycle times, including the Inventory Management System, the Modern Award Processing Development application and automated report generation to monitor progress toward goals and to spot delays.

However, the department still has a backlog of 336,000 claims, and the average processing time is 171 days. VA is studying claims processing methods and other performance drivers within its Veterans Benefits Administration and has begun changing how it processes claims. Also, VA has begun to allocate resources to offices that demonstrate performance and productivity

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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