Boehner bashes VA for lack of progress on claims backlog
Rep. John Boehner wants to know why the VA's average claims processing time is growing longer when it should be decreasing.
The Veterans Affairs Department has had little success in clearing the staggering backlog of compensation claims at an Ohio office, despite launching a transformation effort last summer, according to House Speaker John Boehner.
In a Feb 21 letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the congressman called for action on the "alarmingly" high backlog of veterans’ compensation claims at the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Regional Office.
Despite a transformation plan put in place summer of 2012, the Cleveland office currently processes a claim in an average of 334 days -- well above VA’s goal of 125 days, Boehner wrote. Since the transformation initiative was launched at the Ohio office, the average processing time has lengthened by 56 days – or 20 percent.
But it's not just one office that is having trouble. According to Boehner, the national average for VA to process a claim is 272.5 days. And the national average has been rising, by nearly 18 percent since January 2012, when it was 231.5 days.
Those results "disappointed and disheartened" Boehner, who said his office is currently handling nearly 100 unresolved claims cases awaiting answers from the Cleveland VARO.
"From a veteran who has already been waiting more than a year to simply add her newborn daughter as a dependent, to a veteran who submitted his claim more than two years ago and has yet to receive an answer, the examples of systematic failures being reported by my constituents in the Eighth District and across Ohio are shameful," he said.
The House speaker also took issue with the lackluster results from VA’s senior leader to improve the benefit delivery system for veterans.
"In the four years you have served as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the benefit delivery system has not shown any noticeable improvement and America’s veterans have yet to receive the VA service they deserve," Boehner said. "Despite your transformation efforts, the compensation claims backlog remains alarmingly high and our veterans continue to have their benefit access stifled by a broken system."
In 2010, Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould announced VA had invested $138 million in a paperless system that would be launched in 2012. Two years later, Shinseki announced the national deployment of claims transformation initiatives to 12 regional offices to improve benefits delivery to veterans, families and their survivors.
"This is an important milestone in our transformation to achieve the goal we established in 2009 of processing all disability claims within 125 days at a 98 percent accuracy level in 2015," Shinseki said at the time.
However, the paperless system has yet to be fully adopted and VA is falling short on meeting its promises to reduce the processing time, Boehner said. "The data clearly indicates that your stated goal of processing a claim in 125 days is not being met and it appears that this goal is more unattainable today than it was four years ago," he wrote. "VA stakeholders are asking extremely important questions and as someone who represents them, I believe they deserve nothing less than honest and direct answers."
In his letter, Boehner requested a status update and more information on VA’s plan to migrate to the paperless process. He also asked Shinseki how VA plans to cut the time veterans are waiting to have their claims reviewed and re-adjudicated, and the near- and long-term objectives of the entire transformation process.
Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.