Veterans' Benefits:

Improved Management Needed to Reduce Waiting Time for Appeal Decisions

HRD-90-62: Published: May 25, 1990. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 1990.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) appeals process for disability compensation and pension decisions, to determine whether VA could improve the timeliness of its appeals process without detriment to quality.

GAO found that VA did not: (1) effectively manage appeals, since it lacked adequate data to identify systemic problems; (2) accurately report on the time the appeals process took, and lacked adequate time standards; (3) ensure timely resolution of processing and reporting problems, which often involved multiple organizational units; (4) provide adequate guidance and oversight for regional offices; or (5) ensure that regional offices were complying with procedures. GAO also found that: (1) despite the appeals process being the same for all regions, the average time varied widely among VA regional offices; (2) delays in regional offices were due to slow case statement processing, and delays in requesting or using appeals medical information and forwarding appeals to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA); and (3) VA developed an automated Veterans Appeals Records Management System to provide BVA with appeals data for reporting and control purposes, but the system had never provided accurate data. In addition, GAO found that: (1) the reported average processing time did not accurately reflect the time VA took to provide final decisions on appeals, because it did not account for regional office time spent on remanded decisions, and VA double-counted cases remanded to BVA; and (2) VA management, Congress, and others did not have a complete picture of how long veterans waited for appeal decisions.

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: To improve the processing of veterans' appeals, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should analyze the regional and BVA appeals process in detail to identify when and where delays occur and take steps to reduce the time for the appeals process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA installed extensive changes to its automated tracking systems. These changes will enable VA to analyze regional office and BVA appeals processing for unnecessary delays and take action to reduce those delays.

    Recommendation: To improve the processing of veterans' appeals, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should improve the guidance and oversight of the regional offices. At a minimum, VA should: (1) develop time standards for processing appeals; (2) provide the regional offices more definitive criteria on how recent medical examinations need to be for cases sent to BVA and which staff should accept veterans' notices of disagreement; and (3) enforce regional office compliance with VA procedures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The VA Timeliness Review Study Panel completed its analysis of 4 months of data compiled in the central office and three regional offices. The panel proposed timeliness standards for appeals processing, which have been incorporated into Manual 21-4. VA has initiated action to implement the second and third parts of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the processing of veterans' appeals, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should designate a focal point with the responsibility to lead efforts to improve the management and timeliness of the appeals process. Initially, emphasis should be placed on resolving the problems related to: (1) redesigning the Veterans Appeals Records Management System; (2) the eligibility criteria for hearing loss; and (3) obtaining timely medical examinations from VA medical facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A VA task force is reviewing systematic analyses of all VA central office organizations. VA replaced its Veterans Appeals Records Management System with a new tracking system. VA published eligibility criteria for hearing loss in the Federal Register. VA medical facilities submit all medical examinations to regional offices electronically. VA efforts to designate a focal point are being considered.

    Recommendation: To improve the processing of veterans' appeals, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should modify data collection methods to account for all the time spent on appeals, thereby providing more complete data for management and Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA action to track claims will provide comprehensive data on appeals, specifically time spent in remand status, for management and for reporting to Congress.

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