Veterans' Benefits:

Better Assessments Needed to Guide Claims Processing Improvements

HEHS-95-25: Published: Jan 13, 1995. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 1995.

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Stephen P. Backhus
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) efforts to improve its claims processing operations, focusing on the effectiveness of planned changes to veterans affairs regional offices' (VARO) claims processing structures and procedures.

GAO found that: (1) VA has taken steps to ensure that VARO implement the changes necessary to improve overall service to veterans; (2) VA needs to implement the Blue Ribbon Panel's recommendations to improve disability claims processing; (3) VA has developed several model claims processing structures designed to reorganize staff so that fewer resources are devoted to clerical functions; (4) the models will serve as a framework for implementing other initiatives such as improving claims folder management and the use of evidence received by telephone or fax; (5) VA is also developing regulations and training materials to encourage VARO to adopt these improvement initiatives; (6) VARO have been given significant flexibility to implement initiatives in ways they believe are appropriate; (7) VA may not have a sound basis for determining what additional changes need to be made for guiding future improvements because it has not developed adequate plans for evaluating the merits of the various initiatives; and (8) VA does not have a formal mechanism to disseminate information about the effectiveness of regional initiatives and other VARO experiences with these initiatives.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VBA expects its business process reengineering (BPR) effort, which will take several years to implement, will improve the way VBA evaluates the effectiveness of claims processing. VA's Office of Inspector General closed out this report and its recommendations on August 8, 1997.

    Recommendation: To better ensure improvement in VARO claims processing, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to improve plans to evaluate the effectiveness of claims processing initiatives. The plan should: (1) require VARO to evaluate their major improvement initiatives and provide guidance on how to do so; (2) identify which analytical methods and which data VA headquarters will use to evaluate the various initiatives and make judgments about what changes are most likely to improve claims processing under what circumstances; and (3) describe how VA will disseminate to VARO information on the experiences, good and bad, that VARO have in implementing claims processing initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs


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