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United States General Accounting Office: 
GAO: 

Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on Benefits, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, 
House of Representatives: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 1:00 p.m. MDT: 
Friday, April 26, 2002: 

Veterans' Benefits: 

Despite Recent Improvements, Meeting Claims Processing Goals Will Be 
Challenging: 

Statement of Cynthia A. Bascetta, Director: 
Health Care—-Veterans' Health and Benefits Issues: 

GAO-02-645T: 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

We are pleased to be here today to discuss the Department of Veterans 
Affairs' (VA) progress in reducing veterans' waiting times for 
decisions on their disability compensation and pension claims. VA 
expects to provide about $25 billion in compensation and pension 
benefits in fiscal year 2002 to over 3 million veterans and their 
dependents and survivors. For years, the compensation and pension 
claims process has been the subject of concern and attention within VA 
and by the Congress and veterans service organizations. Many of their 
concerns have focused on the long waits for decisions and large claims 
backlogs, both of which have negatively affected the quality of 
service provided to veterans. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs has 
made improving compensation and pension claims processing performance 
one of VA's top management priorities. The Secretary's end of fiscal 
year 2003 goal is to complete accurate decisions on rating-related 
claims in an average of 100 days.[Footnote 1] To achieve this goal, 
the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is focusing on increasing 
production of rating decisions and reducing the inventory of claims to 
about 250,000. As of the end of March 2002, VBA was completing claims 
in an average of 224 days and had an inventory of about 412,000 claims. 

My comments today address (1) the current status of VBA's continuing 
claims processing performance problems, (2) VBA's progress to date and 
its challenges in meeting its production and inventory reduction 
goals, and (3) longstanding issues that will affect VBA's ability to 
improve timeliness and sustain performance improvements. This 
statement draws from our body of work on claims processing (see 
Related GAO Products); our ongoing study of VBA's implementation of 
the Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) of 2000; and additional 
discussions with VBA central office officials and officials 
responsible for VBA's Tiger Team and Resource Centers. 

In summary, compensation and pension claims processing has been a long-
standing management problem for VBA. Since we testified before the 
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of this Committee in May 
2000,[Footnote 2] VBA's rating-related claims inventory has risen by 
about 85 percent; the number of claims waiting more than 6 months has 
risen by more than 175 percent; and the timeliness of completing 
decisions has worsened. VBA's response to the Secretary's promise to 
give veterans faster decisions on their claims is focused on 
significantly increasing regional offices' rating decision production 
to reduce the inventory and, in turn, reduce the time required to 
complete decisions. VBA expected to increase production by hiring more 
staff and increasing the proficiency of new staff. Although VBA has 
recently increased its production and reduced its inventory, meeting 
its production and inventory reduction goals will be challenging. For 
example, to meet its goal of completing 839,000 claims in fiscal year 
2002, VBA must increase its production of claims to 78,000 per month 
in the second half of the fiscal year from 61,000 per month in the 
first half. Also, to reach its end of the year inventory goal, VBA 
must reduce its inventory by about 16,000 claims a month over the 
second half of the year, from an average of about 1,400 per month in 
the first half. Even if these goals are met, VBA will have difficulty 
meeting the Secretary's timeliness goal. Improving timeliness depends 
on more than just increasing production and reducing inventory. VBA 
continues to face some of the same challenges we identified in the 
past that lengthen claims processing times. For example, VBA needs to 
continue to reduce delays in the process - in particular, delays in 
obtaining evidence. Without such improvements, VBA may have difficulty 
attaining its timeliness goal and sustaining the progress it makes. 

Background: 

The compensation program pays monthly benefits to veterans who have 
service-connected disabilities (injuries or diseases incurred or 
aggravated while on active military duty). The pension program pays 
monthly benefits based on financial need to wartime veterans who have 
low incomes and are permanently and totally disabled for reasons not 
service-connected.' Disability compensation benefits are graduated in 
10 percent increments based on the degree of disability from 0 percent 
to 100 percent. Eligibility and priority for other VA benefits and 
services such as health care and vocational rehabilitation are 
affected by these VA disability ratings. Basic monthly payments range 
from $103 for 10 percent disability to $2,163 for 100 percent 
disability. Generally, veterans do not receive compensation for 
disabilities rated at 0 percent. About 65 percent of veterans receiving 
disability compensation have disabilities rated at 30 percent or 
lower; about 8 percent are 100 percent disabled. The most common 
impairments for veterans who began receiving compensation in fiscal 
year 2000 were skeletal conditions, tinnitus, auditory acuity 
impairment rated at 0 percent, arthritis due to trauma, scars, and 
post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Veterans may submit claims to any one of VBA's 57 regional offices. To 
develop veterans' claims, veterans service representatives at the 
regional offices obtain the necessary information to evaluate the 
claims. This includes veterans' military service records; medical 
examinations and treatment records from VA medical facilities; and 
treatment records from private providers. Once claims are developed, 
rating veterans service representatives (hereafter referred to as 
rating specialists) evaluate the claimed disabilities and assign 
ratings based on degree of disability. Veterans with multiple 
disabilities receive a single, composite rating. For veterans claiming 
pension eligibility, the regional office also determines if the 
veteran served in a period of war, is permanently and totally disabled 
for reasons not service-connected, and meets the income thresholds for 
eligibility. 

If a veteran disagrees with the regional office's decision, he or she 
can ask for a review of that decision or appeal to VA's Board of 
Veterans Appeals (BVA). BVA makes the final decision on such appeals 
and can grant benefits, deny benefits, or remand (return) the case to 
the regional office for further development and reconsideration. After 
reconsidering a remanded decision, the regional office either grants 
the claim or returns it to BVA for a final VA decision. If the veteran 
disagrees with BVA's decision, he or she may appeal to the U.S. Court 
of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). If either the veteran or VA 
disagrees with the CAVC's decision, they may appeal to the court of 
appeals for the federal circuit. 

Claims Processing Continues to be a Problem: 

VBA continues to experience problems processing veterans' disability 
compensation and pension claims. These include large backlogs of 
claims and lengthy processing times. As acknowledged by VBA, excessive 
claims inventories have resulted in long waits for veterans to receive 
decisions on their claims and appeals. As shown in table 1, VBA's 
pending workload of rating related claims has almost doubled from 
fiscal year 1997 to fiscal year 2001. During the same period, VBA's 
production of rating-related claims has steadily declined from about 
702,000 to 481,000. The greatest increase in inventory and decline in 
production occurred during fiscal year 2001. 

Table 1: Changes in VBA's Workload of Rating-Related Claims, Fiscal 
Years 1997-2001: 

Rating-related compensation and pension claims: 
		
Fiscal year: 1997; 
Received: 740,052; 
Completed: 701,717; 
End of year inventory: 213,193. 

Fiscal year: 1998; 
Received: 691,461; 
Completed: 663,400; 
End of year inventory: 241,254. 

Fiscal year: 1999; 
Received: 639,070; 
Completed: 630,145; 
End of year inventory: 250,179. 

Fiscal year: 2000; 
Received: 578,773; 
Completed: 601,451; 
End of year inventory: 227,501. 

Fiscal year: 2001; 
Received: 674,219; 
Completed: 481,117; 
End of year inventory: 420,603. 

Source: Veterans Benefits Administration. 

[End of table] 

Several factors contributed to the significant increase in claims 
inventory in fiscal year 2001. VBA attributes much of the increase to 
VCAA. According to VBA, the most significant change resulting from the 
legislation is the requirement to fully develop claims even in the 
absence of evidence showing a current disability or a link to military 
service. As a result of the VCAA, VBA undertook a review of about 
98,000 veterans' disability claims that were previously denied under 
the CAVC's Morton decision.[Footnote 4] In addition, the VCAA has 
affected the processing of about 244,000 rating-related claims that 
were pending at the time the VCAA was enacted and all new compensation 
and pension claims received since the law's enactment. These claims 
must be developed and evaluated under the expanded procedures required 
by the VCAA. VBA believes this will increase the time to process cases. 

Other contributing factors included the recent addition of diabetes as 
a presumptive service-connected disability for veterans who served in 
Vietnam; the need to train many new claims processing employees; and 
the implementation of new VBA processing software. VBA received about 
56,500 diabetes claims through November 2001 and expects to receive an 
additional 76,000 claims during the remainder of fiscal year 2002. The 
influx of new claims processing staff during fiscal year 2001 has also 
temporarily hampered the productivity of experienced staff. According 
to officials at some of the regional offices we visited, experienced 
rating specialists had less time to spend on rating work because they 
were helping train and mentor new rating specialists. Although this 
may have reduced short-term production, it should enable VBA to 
increase production in the long term by enhancing the proficiency of 
new staff. Furthermore, regional office officials noted that the 
learning curve and implementation difficulties with VBA's new 
automated rating preparation system (Rating Board Automation 2000) 
hampered their productivity.[Footnote 5] 

Over the last 3 years, the average time VBA takes to complete rating-
related claims has increased from 166 to 181 days - which places it 
far from reaching its end of fiscal year 2003 goal of 100 days (see 
figure 1).[Footnote 6] During the same period, the average age of 
pending claims increased from 144 to 182 days. In fiscal year 2001, 
the average age of pending cases was actually greater than the average 
time to complete decisions. According to officials at some of the 
regional offices we visited, staff have recently been focusing on 
completing simpler and less time-consuming cases. Officials told us 
that focusing on completing simpler cases might result in increases in 
production and short-term improvements in timeliness. At the same 
time, it may also result in the office's pending inventory getting 
even older. 

Figure 1: Average Days to Complete Rating-Related Claims, Fiscal Years 
1999 to 2003: 

[Refer to PDF for image: vertical bar graph] 

Fiscal year: 1999: 166 days; 
Fiscal year: 2000: 173 days; 
Fiscal year: 2001: 181 days; 
Fiscal year: 2002 Goal: 208 days; 
Fiscal year: 2003 Goal: 165 days; 
Fiscal year: 2003 Last Quarter Goal: 100 days. 
				
Source: Department of Veterans Affairs Fiscal Year 2003 Performance 
Plan. 

[End of figure] 

In addition to problems with timeliness of decisions, VBA acknowledges 
that the accuracy of regional office decisions needs to be improved. 
Inaccurate decisions can also lead to delays in resolving claims when 
veterans appeal to the BVA. Appeals to BVA can add many months to the 
time required to resolve claims. In fiscal year 2001, the average time 
to resolve an appeal was 595 days - almost 20 months. VBA has made 
progress in improving its accuracy; its accuracy rate for rating-
related decisions increased from 59 percent in fiscal year 2000 to 78 
percent in fiscal year 2001. Beginning in fiscal year 2002, VBA has 
revised its key accuracy measure to focus on whether regional office 
decisions to grant or deny claims were correct.[Footnote 7] This 
revision to VBA's quality assurance program is consistent with a 
recommendation made by the 2001 VA Claims Processing Task Force. 
[Footnote 8] 

Some Progress Made, but Meeting Production and Inventory Goals Will
be Challenging: 

VBA has made some progress in improving its production and reducing 
its inventory but will be challenged to meet the production and 
inventory goals it has set for fiscal year 2002. Recognizing the need 
to address VBA's long-standing claims processing timeliness problem 
and excessive inventory, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has made 
improving claims processing performance in its regional offices one of 
VA's top management priorities. Specifically, the Secretary's end of 
fiscal year 2003 goals are to complete accurate decisions on rating-
related compensation and pension claims in an average of 100 days and 
reduce VBA's inventory of such claims to about 250,000. 

To achieve these goals, VBA is focusing on increasing the number of 
claims decisions its regional offices can complete. At the same time, 
VBA has implemented two initiatives to expedite claim decisions. In 
October 2001, VBA established the Tiger Team at its Cleveland Regional 
Office, a specialized unit including experienced rating specialists, 
to expedite the processing of claims for veterans aged 70 and older 
and clear from the inventory claims that have been pending for over a 
year. VBA also established nine Resource Centers to process claims 
from regional offices that are "ready to rate."[Footnote 9] A claim is 
ready to rate after all the needed evidence is collected. 

To meet the Secretary's inventory goal, VBA plans to complete about 
839,000 rating-related claims decisions in fiscal year 2002. Of these 
claims, the regional offices are expected to complete about 792,000, 
while VBA's Tiger Team and Resource Centers are expected to complete 
the balance of 47,000 claims. This level of production is greater than 
VBA has achieved in any of the last 5 fiscal years-—VBA's peak 
production was about 702,000 claims in fiscal year 1997. However, VBA 
has significantly more rating staff now than it did in any of the 
previous 5 fiscal years. VBA's rating staff has increased by about 50 
percent since fiscal year 1997 to 1,753. To reach VBA's fiscal year 
2002 production goal, rating specialists will need to complete on 
average about 2.5 cases per day - a level VBA achieved in fiscal year 
1999. VBA expects this production level to result in an end of year 
inventory of about 316,000 rating-related claims, which VBA believes 
would put the agency on track to meet the Secretary's inventory goal 
of 250,000 cases by the end of fiscal year 2003. 

To meet its production goal, in December 2001, VBA allocated its 
fiscal year 2002 national production target to its regional offices 
[Footnote 10] based on each regional office's capacity to produce 
rating-related claims given each office's number of rating staff and 
their experience levels.[Footnote 11] For example, an office with 5 
percent of the national production capacity received 5 percent of the 
national production target. In February 2002, VBA revised how it 
allocated the monthly production targets to its regional offices based 
on input from regional offices regarding their current staffing 
levels. In allocating the target, VBA considered each regional 
office's fiscal year 2001 claims receipt levels, production capacity, 
and actual production in the first quarter of fiscal year 2002. 

To hold regional office managers accountable, VBA incorporated 
specific regional office production goals into regional office 
performance standards. For fiscal year 2002, regional office directors 
are expected to meet their annual production target or their monthly 
targets in 9 out of 12 months. Generally, the combined monthly targets 
for the regional offices increase as the year progresses and as the 
many new rating specialists hired in previous years gain experience 
and become fully proficient claims processors. 

The Tiger Team, primarily made up of Cleveland Regional Office staff, 
was established to supplement regional office capacity. It identifies 
claims of veterans aged 70 and over as well as those pending for 1 
year or more and then requests these claims from the regional offices. 
The Tiger Team's 17 rating specialists and 18 veterans service 
representatives are expected to perform whatever additional 
development work is needed on the claims they receive and to make 
rating decisions on these claims. To help expedite development work, 
VBA has obtained priority access for the Tiger Team to obtain evidence 
from VA and other federal agencies. For example, VA and the National 
Archives and Records Administration completed a Memorandum of 
Understanding in October 2001 to expedite Tiger Team requests for 
service records at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. 
Louis, Missouri. Also, VBA established procedures and timeframes for 
expediting Tiger Team requests for medical evidence and examinations. 
Veterans Health Administration (VHA) medical facilities were, in 
general, given 3 days to comply with requests for medical records and 
10 days to provide reports of medical examinations. As of mid-April 
2002, the Tiger Team has completed about 7,800 claims requested from 
42 regional offices. From December 2001 through March 2002 the team's 
production exceeded its goal of 1,328 decisions per month. According 
to Tiger Team officials, its experienced rating specialists were 
averaging about 4 completed ratings per day. Officials added that in 
the short term, completing old claims might increase VBA's average 
time to complete decisions. 

Meanwhile, the Resource Centers also supplement regional offices' 
rating capacity by making decisions on claims that were awaiting 
decisions at the regional offices. VBA officials noted that the rating 
specialists at the Resource Centers tend to be less experienced; thus, 
they are expected to produce fewer ratings per day than the Tiger 
Team. From October 2001 through March 2002, the Resource Centers had 
completed about 14,000 ratings. 

Although VBA has made some progress in increasing production and 
reducing inventory, achieving its fiscal year 2002 production and 
inventory goals will be challenging. VBA expects to increase 
production in the second half of the fiscal year. During the first 6 
months of fiscal year 2002, VBA produced about 368,000 decisions - 
61,000 per month. To meet its goal of producing 839,000 rating 
decisions for the fiscal year, VBA must increase its production to 
about 78,000 decisions a month for the second half of the fiscal year. 
Meanwhile, the rating-related inventory declined by 2 percent during 
the first half of fiscal year 2002. To reach VBA's inventory goal of 
316,000 claims by the end of fiscal year 2002, the inventory must 
decline by another 23 percent over the next 6 months. 

Officials at some of the regional offices we visited said they were 
having difficulty reaching their production targets. Some offices were 
"cherry picking" — completing easier cases in order to meet production 
goals. Meanwhile, older claims were not being worked. While the Tiger 
Team is designed to resolve some of these older claims, regional 
offices will eventually have to handle this workload. Another issue 
raised by officials at one regional office was inadequate numbers of 
staff to develop claims for the rating specialists. While VBA has 
defined capacity based on the number and experience of rating 
specialists, regional offices also need sufficient veterans service 
representatives to develop claims for the rating specialists. 

Even if VBA Meets Its Production and Inventory Goals, Meeting 
Timeliness Goal Will be Difficult: 

VBA will likely have difficulty meeting the Secretary's fiscal year 
2003 timeliness goal, even if it meets its production and inventory 
goals. VBA will have to cut its average claims processing time by more 
than half -from an average of 224 days in the first half of fiscal 
year 2002 — to meet the 100 day goal. However, improving timeliness 
depends on more than just increasing production and reducing 
inventory. VBA also needs to address long-standing problems affecting 
timeliness. VBA needs to continue to make progress in reducing delays 
in obtaining evidence; ensuring that it will have enough experienced 
staff in the long term; and implementing information systems to help 
improve claims processing productivity. Furthermore, external factors 
beyond VBA's control, such as decisions made by the CAVC and the 
filing behavior of veterans, will continue to affect VBA's workload 
and its ability to make sustained improvements in performance. 

Much of the delay in completing claims is not related to the time a 
rating specialist spends on the claim. Rather, delays come in the 
development process - time waiting for evidence. The Tiger Team has 
been able to achieve high production levels, in part, through priority 
access to service and VHA medical records and expedited VHA medical 
examinations. However, not every regional office can benefit from such 
expedited access. VBA needs to continue its progress in reducing 
delays in general. VBA has initiatives to improve its access to 
evidence needed to decide claims. For example, VBA has established an 
office at the NPRC to expedite regional office requests for service 
records. Also, VBA has initiatives to obtain better and more timely 
medical information from VA medical facilities. VBA has access to 
VHA's medical records database. Also, VBA and VHA have established a 
Joint Medical Examination Improvement Office to help identify ways to 
improve the quality and timeliness of VHA's compensation and pension 
medical examinations. 

While these initiatives seem promising, it is unclear the extent to 
which they will improve timeliness. 

VBA needs to ensure that it can maintain the necessary expertise to 
process claims as experienced claims decision makers retire over the 
next several years. To accomplish this, VBA needs to ensure that its 
new claims processing staff are receiving the necessary training and 
on the job experience to become proficient and that it retains these 
employees. VA plans to complete a workforce plan in 2002, which should 
address VBA's succession planning needs. Also, VBA needs to continue 
its progress in implementing its training and performance support 
system for claims processing staff. 

Furthermore, VBA needs to overcome delays in implementing its 
information system improvements. We recently noted that, after 16 
years, VBA is still experiencing delays in implementing its 
replacement benefit delivery system.[Footnote 12] Also, officials at 
some of the regional offices we have visited noted that the initial 
implementation of rating board automation (RBA) 2000 - the application 
designed to assist rating specialists in rating benefit claims - has 
reduced their rating production. 

These challenges affect not only VBA's ability to meet its fiscal year 
2003 goals, but also its ability to sustain the progress it makes in 
improving claims processing performance. To sustain its progress, VBA 
needs to be able to maintain increased production levels, so it can 
deal with future events that could significantly increase its 
workload. Recent history has shown how actions by VA, the Congress, 
and the CAVC can have significant impacts on VBA's workload. For 
example, VA's decision to provide compensation to Vietnam veterans 
with diabetes is having a significant impact on VBA's workload. By the 
end of fiscal year 2003, VBA expects to have received 197,500 diabetes 
claims. VBA has cited the influx of diabetes claims as a factor in its 
fiscal year 2001 inventory increase. Also, the CAVC's Morton decision, 
and the Congress' reaction in passing the VCAA, show the impact of 
procedural changes on VBA's workload. In fiscal year 2000, VBA reduced 
its rating-related inventory from about 250,000 to about 228,000 in 
part because regional offices denied more than 98,000 claims as not 
well-grounded under Morton. However, the overruling of Morton by the 
VCAA was a major factor in the increase in inventory for fiscal year 
2001 and is expected to have a continuing impact on timeliness because 
of lengthened timeframes for obtaining evidence. 

VBA is working hard to meet the Administration's commitment to improve 
its service to veterans by providing more timely decisions on their 
claims. VBA is better staffed to meet its claims workload than it has 
been in recent years. This, in turn, should translate into a more 
productive VBA workforce in the future. However, increasing staffing 
is not enough. VBA needs to address many of the same challenges to 
improving timeliness we reported in May 2000 - such as improving 
waiting times for evidence. VBA has a number of initiatives to improve 
its process, including the implementation of the Claims Processing 
Task Force's recommendations. VBA needs to continue its progress, 
while also addressing its future succession planning and information 
technology needs. By addressing these challenges, VBA can better 
ensure that it will be able to sustain the performance improvements it 
makes in fiscal years 2002 and 2003. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be pleased to
respond to any questions you or Members of the Subcommittee may have. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For further contacts regarding this testimony, please call Cynthia A. 
Bascetta at (202) 512-7101. Others who made key contributions to this 
testimony are Irene Chu, Steve Morris, Martin Scire, and Greg Whitney. 

[End of section] 

Related GAO Products: 

Veterans' Benefits: Improvements Needed in Processing Disability 
Claims. [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/HRD-89-24]. 
Washington, D.C.: June 22, 1989. 

Veterans' Compensation: Medical Reports Adequate for Initial 
Disability Ratings but Need to Be More Timely. [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/HRD-90-115]. Washington, D.C.: May 30, 
1990. 

Veterans' Benefits: Status of Claims Processing Initiative in VA's New 
York Regional Office. [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/HEHS-94-183BR]. Washington, D.C.: June 
17, 1994. 

Veterans' Benefits: Lack of Timeliness, Poor Communication Cause 
Customer Dissatisfaction. [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/HEHS-94-179]. Washington, D.C.: 
September 20, 1994. 

Veterans' Benefits: Better Assessments Needed to Guide Claims 
Processing Improvements. [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/HEHS-95-25]. Washington, D.C.: January 
13, 1995. 

Veterans' Benefits: Effective Interaction Needed Within VA to Address 
Appeals Backlog. [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/HEHS-95-190]. Washington, D.C.: 
September 27, 1995. 

Veterans' Benefits: Improvements Made to Persian Gulf Claims 
Processing. [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/T-HEHS-98-89]. 
Washington, D.C.: February 5, 1998. 

Veterans' Benefits Claims: Further Improvements Needed in Claims-
Processing Accuracy. [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/HEHS-99-35]. Washington, D.C.: March 
1, 1999. 

Veterans Benefits Administration: Progress Encouraging, but Challenges 
Still Remain. [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/T-HEHS-99-77]. Washington, D.C.: March 
25, 1999. 

Veterans' Benefits: Promising Claims-Processing Practices Need to Be 
Evaluated. [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/HEHS-00-65]. 
Washington, D.C.: April 7, 2000. 

Veterans Benefits Administration: Problems and Challenges Facing 
Disability Claims Processing. [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/T-HEHS/AIMD-00-146]. Washington, D.C.: 
May 18, 2000. 

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Veterans 
Affairs. [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GA0-01-255]. 
Washington, D.C.: January 2001. 

Veterans' Benefits: Training for Claims Processors Needs Evaluation. 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-01-601]. Washington, D.C.: 
May 31, 2001. 

Veterans Affairs: Status of Achieving Key Outcomes and Addressing 
Major Management Challenges. [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-01-752]. Washington, D.C.: June 15, 
2001. 

Veterans' Benefits: Quality Assurance for Disability Claims 
Processing. [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-01-930R]. 
Washington, D.C.: August 23, 2001. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] Rating-related claims are primarily original claims for 
compensation and pension benefits and "reopened" claims by veterans 
already receiving such benefits. 

[2] U.S. General Accounting Office, Veterans Benefits Administration: 
Problems and Challenges Facing Disability Claims Processing, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/T-HEHS/AIMD-00-146], 
(Washington, D.C.: May 18, 2000). 

[3] Veterans who are 65 years or older do not have to be permanently 
and totally disabled to become eligible for pension benefits, as long 
as they meet the other requirements for income and military service. 

[4] In Morton v. West, 12 Vet. App. 477 (1999), the CAVC ruled that 
the VA did not have a duty to assist in developing claims unless they 
were "well-grounded" as required by federal statute; that is, enough 
evidence was provided for VA to determine that the claim was 
plausible. Prior to this court decision, VA policy was to assist 
claimants in developing a well-grounded claim. This practice, however, 
was not required by law, and VBA regional offices varied in the amount 
of assistance they provided. The VCAA (P.L. 106-475) was enacted on 
November 9, 2000; this law repealed the requirement that claims be 
well-grounded and it obligated VA to assist a claimant in obtaining 
evidence that is necessary to establish eligibility for the benefit 
being sought. 

[5] Rating Board Automation 2000 is a system designed to assist rating 
specialists in preparing rating decisions on claims. 

[6] VA's Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2001 — 2006 includes a 
strategic goal of completing rating-related claims in an average of 74 
days in fiscal year 2006. 

[7] Prior to this change, VA's accuracy rate included whether 
decisions to grant or deny claims were correct and also included 
errors stemming from procedural and technical issues, such as failure 
to include all the documentation in the case file. 

[8] In May 2001, the Secretary established the VA Claims Processing 
Task Force to recommend ways to improve VA's claims processing 
production, reduce its claims backlog, and improve its claims 
processing timeliness. The task force issued its report in October 
2001. 

[9] The Resource Centers are located at the regional offices in San 
Diego, California; St. Petersburg, Florida; Togus, Maine; St. Louis, 
Missouri; Muskogee, Oklahoma; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Columbia, 
South Carolina; Seattle, Washington; and Huntington, West Virginia. 

[10] VBA had initially established production targets in March 2001 
for April through December 2001. The target was to complete 52,000 
rating related claims per month that would allow VBA to reduce its 
inventory by 1 percent per month. 

[11] In determining regional office production capacity, VBA officials 
told us that they considered the various experience levels of regional 
office rating specialists. For example, rating specialists with 6 
months to 1 year of experience are expected to rate half as many 
claims as rating specialists with more than 2 years of experience. A 
rating specialist with 1 to 2 years of experience would be expected to 
rate three-quarters as many claims as a rating specialist with over 2 
years' experience. 

[12] U.S. General Accounting Office, VA Information Technology: 
Progress Made, but Continued Management Attention Is Key to Achieving 
Results, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-02-369T], 
(Washington, D.C.: Mar. 13, 2002). 

[End of section]