Veterans' Benefits:

Effective Interaction Needed Within VA to Address Appeals Backlog

HEHS-95-190: Published: Sep 27, 1995. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the need for organizations within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that are involved in processing claims to increase cooperation and coordination so that impediments to processing appeals can be identified and resolved.

GAO found that: (1) legislation and Court of Veterans Appeals' rulings have forced VA to integrate new adjudication responsibilities into its already unwieldy adjudication process; (2) since 1991, the number of appeals awaiting Board of Veterans Appeals' action has increased by over 175 percent and the average processing time has increased by over 50 percent; (3) the VA legal and organizational framework makes effective interaction among autonomous VA claims adjudication organizations essential to fair and efficient claims processing; (4) although VA believes it has implemented efficient problem solving mechanisms, problems are going unidentified and unresolved; (5) unless consistent Board interpretations are developed, VA decisions will continue to be remanded, delaying benefits for some veterans and increasing VA workloads; and (6) unless VA clearly defines its adjudication responsibilities, it can not determine whether it has adequate resources to meet those responsibilities and whether new solutions may be needed.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA designated the Deputy Secretary as the Department-level official responsible for monitoring actions by the Board of Veterans Appeals, VBA, and VHA.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should designate a Department-level official to monitor actions by the Board of Veterans Appeals, Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to identify and resolve intra-agency impediments to efficient claims and appeals processing. This individual should be charged with making recommendations to the Secretary, if necessary, to ensure resolution of problems. The recently established permanent working group could serve as the focus of these monitoring efforts and the designated official could report to the Secretary and make recommendations about problems that the working group is unable to effectively resolve. A first priority of this official should be monitoring the progress of the organizations in implementing the recommendations of the VBA study of recently certified appeals and ensuring that VBA and VHA policies and practices are consistent with the Court of Veterans Appeals and Board decisions. These efforts should be ongoing to ensure such consistency, obtaining General Counsel opinions where needed and to ensure that any resource or organizational difficulties are identified and resolved.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs


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