Veterans' Benefits:

Improvements Made to Persian Gulf Claims Processing

HEHS-98-111R: Published: Mar 18, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 18, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO followed up on congressional concerns about Persian Gulf claims processing, focusing on whether: (1) there was a significant difference in allowance rates between the regional offices adjudicating these claims; (2) the rating and timeliness of Persian Gulf claims could be improved; (3) other veterans' claims are being cast aside in favor of readjudicating the Persian Gulf claims; and (4) there were any large mismatches between Gulf War claims and the resources to handle them in various regional offices.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO's sample of Persian Gulf claims did not permit it to draw conclusions or provide an indication of the differences in allowance rates by regional offices; (2) GAO drew its sample from a nationwide pool of Persian Gulf claims, and it was not designed to estimate such differences by regional offices; (3) two-thirds of the claims in GAO's sample were readjudicated by a former area processing office; (4) the remaining claims in GAO's sample were readjudicated by 16 different regional offices, and 11 of these offices processed only one claim; (5) one area that may warrant closer inspection is the adequacy or quality of the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) medical examinations required in undiagnosed illness claims; (6) VA's Undersecretary for Benefits acknowledged in his testimony that the adequacy of medical examination reports are a major concern and, to address this issue, VA has developed guidelines for conducting examinations involving undiagnosed illnesses; (7) as part of its decentralization process, VA instructed its regional offices to give the readjudication of previously denied Gulf War claims the highest priority; (8) regional offices therefore assigned up to 30 percent of their adjudication staff to Persian Gulf claims processing, which allowed 70 percent of the staff to handle non-Persian Gulf claims; (9) because GAO's review of the Persian Gulf claims processing did not include an analysis of regional office resources, GAO could not address mismatches between claims and resources in regional offices; and (10) however, due to decentralization, regional offices located in VA's southern areas received most of the Persian Gulf claims for readjudication.

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