Hon. Bob Filner, Ranking Democratic Member, Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We are here today to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of some of the elements of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans’ Benefits Administration’s Claims Transformation Plan.
Since the beginning of 2007, the VBA has added well over 10,000 claims processing personnel and Congress has funded these requests. Yet the backlog still climbs.
However, merely adding more people to the same flawed system will not ensure proper benefits delivery to Veterans, their families and survivors. We need to continue to look at the system with fresh eyes to help VA manage its claims processing mission.
At the time of its enactment, the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008, P.L. 110-389, was embraced by many stakeholders as a way forward for VA to revamp and modernize its claims processing system--to bring relief to those Veterans who were languishing in an antiquated system in dire need of reform.
I am pleased that P.L. 110-389 also planted the seeds for a number of initiatives that VA is currently undertaking, particularly its Veterans Benefits Management System and the Business Transformation Lab in Providence, Rhode Island.
However, the need is still there to focus on comprehensive reform that will result in a system that reflects improved accountability, accuracy, quality assurance and timeliness of claims and appeals processing for our Veterans, their families and survivors.
As the VA OIG recently concluded in its report after the inspection review of 16 VA ROs, VBA is processing 23% of its claims erroneously.
That’s nearly 1 in 4 claims!
To change this, the VAOIG recommended that VA needs to enhance policy guidance, compliance oversight, workload management, training and supervisory review in order to improve claims processing operations.
Long story short, we need to focus on getting the claim right the first time!
I know that VA has developed a number of forward-thinking pilots and laboratory initiatives, but how will they actually help to put VA on track to processing its compensation and pension claims and appeals in a virtual environment using twenty-first century technology?
How will it help deliver the promise to improve the accuracy, consistency, quality and accountability of VA’s claims processing system?
To deal with the massive scope of these issues, VA has a lot of irons in its transformation plan’s fire, the biggest of which is VBMS (Veterans Benefits Management System).
However, let us not confuse activity for action.
Let us not confuse new processes with progress.
We all know the problem; it’s been around for several decades.
I support the fact that the VBA is trying to operate more strategically under Secretary Shinseki’s leadership and taking ownership of problems, the breadth of which, continue to perplex stakeholders of the Veterans community in terms of finding a workable solution.
But I must ask the tough question, where is your plan of execution, your strategic outline to actually get there!
Technology seems to be passing by VA and your execution is slow and sloppy!
Finally, I have said it many time before, it really is time to come up with outside-of-the box solutions and consider implementing practices like an IRS-type model system where claims are granted and then later audited.
However, these types of solutions would require a lot of buy-in— everyone is currently vested in a failed system that is hemorrhaging and all we have are band-aids.
How else will we dig out of a million-plus claims? I don’t think VBMS will get us there. Nor will any of these other warmed-over pilots. The best thing I can compare the likely outcome to is a Shakespearean tragedy.
But we need to ensure that we adopt policies that show the highest trust of our Veterans --and which prevent them from waiting too long for a final decision on the benefits that have rightfully earned.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back my time.