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entitled 'Veterans Benefits: VA Needs Plan for Assessing Consistency of 
Decisions' which was released on November 19, 2004.

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Report to Congressional Requesters:

United States Government Accountability Office:


November 2004:

Veterans Benefits:

VA Needs Plan for Assessing Consistency of Decisions:




Appendix I: Briefing Slides:


BDN: Benefits Delivery Network:

STAR: Systematic Technical Accuracy Review:

VA: Department of Veterans Affairs:

United States Government Accountability Office:

Washington, DC 20548:

November 19, 2004:

The Honorable Henry E. Brown, Jr.: 
Subcommittee on Benefits:
Committee on Veterans' Affairs:
House of Representatives:

The Honorable Mike Simpson:
House of Representatives:

In the past, we have reported concerns about possible inconsistencies 
in the disability decisions made by the 57 regional offices of the 
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In 2002, we reported that VA did 
not systematically assess the consistency of decision making for any 
specific impairments included in veterans' disability claims.[Footnote 
1] We recommended that VA conduct such assessments to help reduce any 
unacceptable variations that VA might find among regional offices. VA 
agreed that decision-making consistency is an important goal and 
concurred in principle with our recommendation. However, VA did not 
discuss how it would measure consistency.

In January 2003, in part because of concerns about consistency, we 
designated VA's disability program, along with other federal disability 
programs, as high-risk.[Footnote 2] In fiscal year 2005, VA estimates 
it will pay about $25 billion in disability compensation benefits to 
about 2.7 million disabled veterans. In this context, you asked us to 
determine (1) the actions that VA has taken to assess the consistency 
of regional office decisions on disability compensation claims and (2) 
the extent to which VA program data can be used to measure the 
consistency of decision making among regional offices.

To address these issues, we (1) identified key data fields in VA's 
Benefits Delivery Network system--such as the level of benefits awarded 
for each claimed impairment--which VA uses to manage the delivery of 
disability benefits to veterans; (2) obtained from VA an electronic 
file of these key data fields for all veterans receiving compensation 
benefits as of March 2004; (3) conducted electronic testing of key data 
fields to determine their reliability for identifying indications of 
possible inconsistency in regional office decisions; and (4) reviewed 
VA records and documents and interviewed VA officials. We conducted our 
review from November 2003 through October 2004 in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards. On October 28, 2004, 
we briefed your office on the results of our work. This letter formally 
conveys the information provided during that briefing. Appendix I 
contains the briefing slides.

In summary, we found that VA still does not systematically assess 
decision-making consistency among the 57 regional offices. We also 
found that data contained in VA's Benefits Delivery Network system, 
which was designed for the purpose of paying benefits, do not provide a 
reliable basis for identifying indications of possible decision-making 
inconsistencies among regional offices. However, according to VA 
officials, as of October 2004, a newly-implemented nationwide 
information system (known as RBA 2000) could provide VA such an 
opportunity if the system proves over time to reliably collect data 
needed to determine each regional office's denial rates and average 
disability ratings for specific impairments. VA will need to collect 
several years of data with RBA 2000 in order to have sufficient data to 
reliably identify indications of impairment-specific inconsistencies 
among regional offices. Still, even if the RBA 2000 system permits VA 
to identify indications of such inconsistencies, VA will need to 
systematically study and determine the extent and causes of such 
inconsistencies and identify ways to reduce any variations among 
regional offices that VA may consider unacceptable.

We recommend that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs develop a plan, and 
include it in VA's annual performance plan, that contains a detailed 
description of how VA will (1) use data gathered through the new RBA 
2000 system to identify indications of possible inconsistencies among 
regional offices in the award and denial of disability compensation 
benefits for specific impairments and (2) conduct systematic studies of 
consistency for specific impairments for which RBA 2000 data reveal 
indications of possible decision-making inconsistencies among regional 

In oral comments on a draft of this report, VA agreed with our findings 
and conclusions and concurred with our recommendation. We also made 
technical revisions as appropriate.

We are sending copies of this report to the Chairman and Ranking 
Democratic Member, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs; the Chairman 
and Ranking Democratic Member, Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs; 
and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. We will also make copies 
available upon request. In addition, the report will be available at no 
charge on GAO's Web site at

If you or your staffs have any questions about this report, please 
contact me on (202) 512-7215 or Irene Chu, Assistant Director, on (202) 
512-7102. Ira Spears, Joseph Natalicchio, Joan Vogel, Walter Vance, and 
Vanessa Taylor also made key contributions to this report.

Signed by: 

Cynthia A. Bascetta: 
Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues:

[End of section]

Appendix I: Briefing Slides:

[See PDF for images]

[End of slide presentation]

[End of section]


[1] GAO, Veterans' Benefits: Quality Assurance for Disability Claims 
and Appeals Processing Can Be Further Improved, GAO-02-806 (Washington, 
D.C.: Aug. 16, 2002).

[2] GAO, High-Risk Series: An Update, GAO-03-119 (Washington, D.C.: 
Jan. 2003).

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