Veterans' Benefits:

Improvements Needed in the Reporting and Use of Data on the Accuracy of Disability Claims Decisions

GAO-03-1045: Published: Sep 30, 2003. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2003.

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The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has a large inventory of claims for benefits under its compensation and pension programs. The Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs has pledged to substantially reduce this inventory in order to improve timeliness. In response, VBA emphasized producing more claims decisions per year. GAO was asked to ascertain how accuracy has changed since VBA increased its emphasis on production and to report on the agency's efforts to ensure the accuracy of its decisions.

From fiscal years 2001 to 2002, VBA's accuracy of decision-making in the disability compensation and pension benefit programs declined from 89 percent to 81 percent. The agency had reported a slight improvement in accuracy between fiscal years 2001 and 2002--from 78 percent to 80 percent. However, we found that these two annual figures were not comparable because the agency had substantially changed the way it measured accuracy for fiscal year 2002. Although VBA acknowledged a change in its accuracy measure in its annual report to the Congress, the agency did not revise its 2001 figure to allow for an appropriate comparison with 2002. VBA officials GAO spoke with suggested several factors that may have contributed to the decline in accuracy. We were not able to quantify the relative contribution of these factors. These factors included VBA's emphasis on increasing claims decisions, the specific processing requirements of the Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) of 2000, and the relative inexperience of VBA's claims processing staff. To help ensure accountability for accuracy, VBA set accuracy standards for its regional offices. Although VBA has regional office-level accuracy data, it has not made full use of this information to encourage better performance from regional offices with low accuracy scores. For example, in fiscal year 2002, VBA did not require offices with poor accuracy to prepare improvement plans and gave performance awards to two offices that clearly failed to meet VBA's accuracy goal.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to report the accuracy of VBA disability compensation and pension claims decisions to the Congress and other stakeholders in a manner that allows for valid comparisons of accuracy across fiscal years.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs: Veterans Benefits Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its Fiscal Year 2003 Annual Performance and Accountability Report, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported the accuracy of its rating work using the same measure of accuracy for all years reported, ensuring valid comparisons of accuracy across fiscal years.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to better hold regional offices accountable for the accuracy of their claims decisions, by increasing the use of its regional office accuracy data, while at the same time maintaining an appropriate emphasis on production.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs: Veterans Benefits Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its Fiscal Year 2004 Performance Awards Program, VBA made meeting a claims rating accuracy standard a prerequisite for receiving a performance award.

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