VBA's Efforts to Implement the Veterans Claims Assistance Act Need Further Monitoring
GAO-02-412: Published: Jul 1, 2002. Publicly Released: Jul 1, 2002.
The Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000 was passed in response to concerns expressed by veterans, veterans service organizations, and Congress over a 1999 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims that held that the VA did not have a duty to assist veterans in developing their claims unless they were "well-grounded." The Veterans' Benefits Administration (VBA) has taken a number of steps, including issuing guidance, revising and supplementing this guidance based on questions raised by regional offices, and reinforcing the guidance based on the results of its accuracy reviews. Despite these efforts, VBA has found problems with consistent regional office compliance with the law. While taking steps to implement the act, VBA is also focusing on significantly increasing production and reducing the claims inventory to manage the slowdown in case processing. In fiscal year 2002, VBA plans to complete 839,000 claims to reduce its inventory to 316,000 claims.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Not Implemented
Comments: VA concurred with the recommendation, and stated its commitment to effectively implement the VCAA. In its comments on the draft report, VA stated that by the end of fiscal year 2002, it would have reviewed a significant sample of work which would allow it to evaluate the effectiveness of its training on VCAA guidance. If an unacceptable number of VCAA-related errors persisted, VBA would identify the underlying causes based on the latest data. This recommendation was contingent on VBA continuing to experience significant problems in implementing the VCAA. VA has noted that benefit entitlement accuracy improved by 10 points from the first to fourth quarters of fiscal year 2002. Because VBA did not continue to experience significant accuracy problems, implementing the recommendation is no longer necessary.
Recommendation: If VBA continues to experience significant problems with implementing the Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA), the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to identify the causes of the VCAA-related errors so that more specific corrective actions can be taken.
Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs