Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Submission For The Record of Veterans and Military Families for Progress
December 2, 2013
Congressman Jon Runyan
Chairman, Disabilities Assistance and Memorial Affairs Sub-Committee
334 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC. 20003
RE: Adjudicating VA’s Most Complex Disability Claims: Ensuring Quality, Accuracy and Consistency on Complicated Issues
Veterans and Military Families for Progress (VMFP) wants to thank you for holding this hearing on such a timely issue with regard to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) process of adjudication of veterans claims for disability, education and other such purposes for the benefits they have rightfully earned.
As you are well aware, the implementation of the Veterans Benefits and Management System (VBMS) has recently taken place within the VA system of claims centers and Regional Offices (RO’s). This system has yet to be properly evaluated by the legal community or by Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) responsible for representing veterans in their claims.
It is our belief the VA’s attempt at this implementation is not in the best interest of the veteran. This is an electronic set of systems with many hidden features. It is not open to general interpretation or scrutiny. This adds a layer of complexity and confusion with little known results, oversight or regulatory conformance.
In reviewing the overall process, the legal obstacles, in and of themselves, are a burden to most veterans and the lack of assistance from the VA initially is daunting. With this new level of unknown electronic operations, guaranteed only by VA, to process an initial claim is not sufficient to warrantee any level of fulfillment that claims are being processed accurately or consistently. In fact, due to recent reports on claims processing, the opposite is more likely true.
Benefits claim appeals to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) have increased at a rate of nearly 1,000 claims per week. The current claims in the CAVC are at their highest point ever.
In reviewing what is supposed to be the process for a veteran or their dependant to apply for a claim, the initial application should consist of the request(s) for a specific benefit (disability, education, medical needs, etc.) accompanied with the veteran’s Department of Defense form DD-214, and any supporting documentation. The increased level in obstacles to obtaining the contractually obligated benefits has become steeped in laws and unnecessary bureaucracy to the detriment of veterans and their families.
In reviewing the level of consistency in the decisions from VA on claims from veterans, the comparable evidence is truly a mystery. Claims approvals and denials vary from state to state, region to region and office to office. In many case a veteran with a valid claim in a specific office will have his or her claim denied while a veteran with the exact same claim with the exact same evidence will submit the claim to the same office and have their claim approved.
There is also no supporting evidence, since the implementation of the VBMS system, the claims process or accuracy has either changed or improved. Claims in this system can be determined to be accurate and acceptable to VA, only to have the claim denied by either a Regional Office (RO) or a Director of the RO. This can happen in any office anywhere within all of the offices of the VA making these determinations. Since the VBMS system can be interfered with or altered by an individual, the use of this technology is ineffective by most measurable standards of fairness or justice.
In conclusion, the VA is not making any visible or measurable strides to create a “less complicated” system or improving their methods to help veterans. There is no measurable evidence the recent changes in VA have done anything more than add layers to the existing many layers of bureaucratic schemes designed to insure injustice to veterans seeking the benefits assigned to them in their agreement when they entered military service. The assertion by the VA for the added by a technology, originally reported to “make things easier” for the veterans and government, has no basis in fact. The issue of complexity of claims resolution is increased to a new level wherein there is no possible method of discovering the processes used to reach a decision on how VA arrived at their assessment of a claim or what was the application of law used in making their determination for a claim.
VMFP respectfully requests your committee examine the disability claims process and the quality of the VA decision more closely in the future. Since there is no evidence to substantiate that claims quality, process, accuracy or complexity has improved in recent months or years, the question(s) you have asked in this hearing are of great importance to our veterans and their families everywhere.
Ronald D. Scott
President, Veterans and Military Families for Progress
CC: Committee List