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    Results:

    Subject Term: "Disability claims"

    4 publications with a total of 13 open recommendations including 1 priority recommendation
    Director: Brown Barnes, Cindy S
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration and the Under Secretary for Benefits to review and update all relevant policies and guidance to reflect the agency's requirement that employees' hours teleworked be recorded in VATAS.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration and the Under Secretary for Benefits to communicate that telework hours should be recorded in VATAS to VBA regional office employees.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration and the Under Secretary for Benefits to develop a process to monitor the quality of data and to ensure that employees' telework hours are recorded accurately and completely in VATAS.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure VHA medical examiners are prepared to conduct the Gulf War general medical exam, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to require medical examiners to complete training, such as the 90-minute Gulf War Illness web-based course, before conducting these exams.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA agreed this recommendation and stated it has plans to address it. Specifically, VA said it plans to make its 90-minute web-based training course mandatory for its medical examiners who conduct Gulf War Illness exams.
    Recommendation: To provide more complete information to veterans whose Gulf War Illness claims are denied, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to update guidance to require that decision letters indicate whether Gulf War Illness medical issues were evaluated under both a presumptive and direct service connection method.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA agreed this recommendation and stated it has plans in place to address it. Specifically, VA noted it would improve how it communicates decisions to veterans and is in the process of updating its guidance to the regional offices to clarify the language required for its Gulf War Illness decision letters.
    Recommendation: To increase the likelihood of making progress toward developing a single case definition of Gulf War Illness, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to prepare and document a plan to develop a single case definition of Gulf War Illness. This plan should include near- and long-term specific actions, such as analyzing and leveraging information in existing datasets and identifying any areas for future research to help VA achieve this goal.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA agreed this recommendation and stated it has plans to address it. Specifically, VA noted it would convene a group of subject matter experts to work on a plan - as described in our report - to establish a single case definition of Gulf War Illness.
    Director: Valerie C. Melvin
    Phone: (202) 512-6304

    5 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to develop an updated plan for VBMS that includes (1) a schedule for when VBA intends to complete development and implementation of the system, including capabilities that fully support disability claims, pension claims, and appeals processing and (2) the estimated cost to complete development and implementation of the system.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with our recommendation calling for an updated plan for the Veterans Benefits Management System. However, as of June 2017, the department had not developed a plan that included a schedule for when the Veterans Benefits Administration intends to complete development and implementation of the system, as well as the estimated cost of doing so. We will continue to monitor VA's actions in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to establish goals for system response time and use the goals as a basis for periodically reporting actual system performance.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and reported that the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) program office has developed draft metrics for performance of the system. Specifically, VA stated that the office has established key performance indicators as a basis for monitoring the response times of the most commonly executed user transactions (or work events) within VBMS. According to the department, these indicators have been incorporated into the application's continuous monitoring tools for all service level agreements and these agreements are enforced by the VA Service Level Management Board. Nevertheless, as of June 2017, VA had not identified its goals for VBMS response times, nor had the department reported actual system response times. We will continue to monitor VA's actions toward addressing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to reduce the incidence of high- and medium-priority level defects that are present at the time of future VBMS releases.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and, in June 2017, reiterated its plans and procedures for decreasing the incidences of defects in each system release. However, the incidences of high- and medium-priority level defects at the time of recent VBMS releases (i.e., releases 10.1 and 11.0) had increased relative to the number of defects present at the time of the earlier release (i.e., release 8.1) that we described in our report. We will continue to monitor VA's actions and progress in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to develop and administer a statistically valid survey of VBMS users to determine the effectiveness of steps taken to make improvements in users' satisfaction.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and in January 2017, conducted a survey of VBMS users that was sent to over 16,000 claims processors at each of its 56 regional offices. Although 52 percent of respondents indicated that they were very satisfied or satisfied with VBMS, the department received only about 2500 responses to the survey for a 15 percent response rate. This low response rate raises concern about whether the survey results are statistically valid. We have requested additional information from VA to determine any actions the department has taken to ensure the statistical validity of its survey results and will assess any information that is provided.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to establish goals that define customer satisfaction with VBMS and report on actual performance toward achieving the goals based on the results of GAO's survey of VBMS users and any future surveys VA conducts.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and conducted a survey of VBMS users in January 2017. However, as of June 2017, the department had yet to develop customer satisfaction goals for VBMS that would provide users with an expectation of the system response times they should anticipate, and management with an indication of how well the system is performing relative to performance goals.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: As part of initiatives currently under way to improve agency information on claims with appointed representatives and detect potential fraud associated with representatives, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should consider actions to provide more timely access to data on representatives and enhance mechanisms for identifying and monitoring trends and patterns related to representation, particularly trends that may present risks to program integrity. Specifically, SSA could (1) Identify additional data elements, or amendments to current data collection efforts, to improve information on all appointed representatives, including those under contract with states and other third parties; (2) Implement necessary policy changes to ensure these data are collected. This could include enhancing technical systems needed to finalize SSA's 2008 proposed rules that would recognize organizations as representatives; and (3) Establish mechanisms for routine data extracts and reports on claims with representatives.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2017, SSA reported that it is approaching the conclusion of the first phase of a new initiative, called Registration, Appointment and Services for Representatives (RASR). This initiative aims to register all appointed representatives and improve relevant business processes and data collection. SSA reported that it had to postpone the first release of RASR, originally targeted for December 2016, due to some systems issues. SSA stated that it has not yet set a new target date for the first release. SSA stated that this new application will enhance data collection and management of representatives' information and that it will help make strides toward better oversight and improved data analysis and reporting. We will consider closing this recommendation when these efforts are completed.
    Recommendation: To address risks associated with potential overpayments to representatives and protect claimant benefits, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should take steps to enhance coordination with states, counties, and other third parties with the goal of improving oversight and preventing and identifying potential overpayments. This coordination could be conducted in a cost-effective manner, such as issuing guidance to states and other third parties on vulnerabilities for overpayment; sharing best practices on how to prevent overpayments; or considering the costs and benefits, including any privacy and security concerns, of providing third parties controlled access to portions of the eFolder to facilitate the detection of potential overpayments.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2017, SSA stated that it added a section to a new form--Form SSA-1698, Fee Agreement for Representation before the Social Security Administration--that claimants and representatives can use to enter into fee agreements. According to SSA, this form requires the disclosure of fees that the representative will receive from a third party and the amount of those fees. SSA expects this form to be in use upon OMB approval. Similar language already exists in another form--Form SSA-1560-U4, Petition to Obtain Approval of a Fee for Representing a Claimant before the Social Security Administration--that claimants and representatives can use for fee petitions. SSA stated that these forms are (and will be) included in the folder of evidence that adjudicators may review before determining whether and how much to authorize in fees. According to SSA, disclosure and approval of any third party fees, with potential adjustment of the fee, by both the claimant and SSA should help prevent excessive fees. While the proposed change to the form may help improve transparency of fee arrangements, the potential for a representative to receive a payment from SSA and also receive a payment from a state or other third party still exists. Unless SSA and the state or other third party share information on their payments or have policies and procedures in place to prevent such cases, representatives could still receive both SSA and state payments that total more than the SSA-authorized fee. In order to address this vulnerability, we continue to believe that SSA should enhance coordination or issue guidance to states and other third parties about this vulnerability, which could include SSA sharing best practices for preventing these types of overpayments. For example, one state requires contracted organizations to submit copies of their signed form 1696 (Appointment of Representative) so the state could verify the representative checked the appropriate box for payment.