Veterans' Benefits:

Improvements Made to Persian Gulf Claims Processing

T-HEHS-98-89: Published: Feb 5, 1998. Publicly Released: Feb 5, 1998.

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Stephen P. Backhus
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) adjudication of veterans' claims for compensation for undiagnosed illnesses that resulted from their service in the Persian Gulf War, focusing on: (1) VA's efforts to improve Persian Gulf claims processing; and (2) its effect on the readjudication of claims previously denied.

GAO noted that: (1) VA has taken steps to help improve its processing of Persian Gulf claims; (2) specifically, in July 1996, VA issued guidance to help ensure that procedures for processing Persian Gulf claims are followed by requiring claims processors to provide veterans with clear and useful information regarding types of evidence that could be used to support their claims; (3) such evidence includes records of medical exams and time lost at work; (4) the guidance also requires claims processors to properly consider these pieces of evidence and thoroughly follow up on information that may support the claims; (5) also, to help improve the timeliness of VA's actions on Persian Gulf claims, in May 1997, VA centralized the processing of those claims from 4 to all 58 of its regional offices and began providing training to regional office staff on processing the claims; (6) because VA only recently began some of the initiatives to help improve the processing of Persian Gulf claims, the full impact of the initiatives is uncertain at this time; (7) however, GAO's follow-up review indicates that VA, for the most part, has followed its procedures in readjudicating the previously denied cases; (8) for example, in all the cases GAO reviewed, VA had provided veterans with a written description of the types of evidence Persian Gulf veterans could use to support their claims; (9) as a result of VA's readjudication of denied claims completed to date, VA granted benefits to about 8 percent of the veterans whose claims were previously denied for undiagnosed conditions; and (10) benefits could include compensation or medical care.

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