Veterans' Benefits:

Lack of Timeliness, Poor Communication Cause Customer Dissatisfaction

HEHS-94-179: Published: Sep 20, 1994. Publicly Released: Sep 20, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the quality of the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) claims processing services, focusing on the: (1) timeliness of VA claim processing operations; (2) communication between VA and benefit applicants; (3) extent to which applicants have to resubmit documents to support their claims; and (4) extent to which VA denies claims and other veterans service organizations are involved in the claims process.

GAO found that: (1) over one-third of VA benefit applicants are dissatisfied with VA claims processing operations; (2) applicants frequently complain that VA does not timely process claims, does not adequately communicate with its customers, and requires many applicants to resubmit documents; (3) although VA recognizes the need to improve the timeliness of its claims processing operations, some applicants remain dissatisfied with the process; (4) 40 percent of the applicants that visited VA offices stated that they did not get the information they needed; (5) the most requested information concerned the services and benefits available, status of benefit claims, and the reasons for claim decisions; (6) 22 percent of VA applicants have to resubmit documents at least once which costs applicants time and money and increases VA workload and processing times; (7) although VA denies 36 percent of applicants' claims, it does not keep adequate information on these denied applicants so that it can improve services; (8) 60 percent of VA applicants receive services from other veterans' organizations; and (9) VA needs to improve communication with these other sources so that it can identify ways to improve customer satisfaction.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its fiscal year 1998 Government Performance and Results Act Strategic Plan, VA established long-term goals that will meet or exceed customer expectations for claims processing timeliness. These goals are based on a VA business process reengineering plan that describes the steps necessary to achieve VA's processing timeliness goals by 2002.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to set long-term goals to meet customer expectations for processing times and prepare a plan describing the incremental steps necessary to meet them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA regional offices have developed expectation letters that are used to acknowledge receipt of the claim, provide an estimate of how long it will take to complete the claim, and explain what additional action may be necessary. The estimate of how long it will take is based on the previous month's completion data for similar claims.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to provide applicants realistic estimates about how long it will take to complete their claims.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA developed an annual customer survey for compensation and pension benefits that included information on all types of claimants, including those whose claims were denied. According to VA, data collection using the survey was completed for all VA regional offices during the fall and winter of 1996 and that analysis and reporting of the survey results were completed by June 1997. However, further analyses of the survey results did not provide VA with the expected level of specificity. Since that time, VA has closed this job and decided not to track the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to develop data on applicants whose claims are denied so VA can ensure that that segment of its customers gets the best service possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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