Veterans' Benefits: More Transparency Needed to Improve Oversight of VBA's Compensation and Pension Staffing Levels

GAO-05-47 Published: Nov 15, 2004. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 2004.
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The Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, asked GAO to assist the committee in its oversight of the Veterans Benefits Administration's (VBA) disability compensation and pension programs. This report examines (1) VBA's determination and justification of claims processing staffing levels, and the role of productivity in such determinations, and (2) VBA's projections of future claims workload and complexity.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Veterans Affairs To assist the Congress in its oversight of VBA's compensation and pension claims processing operations, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to prepare the following information and work with the Committees on Veterans' Affairs and the Appropriations Subcommittees on Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies on how best to make it available for their use: (1) explanation of the expected impact of specific initiatives and changes in incoming claims workload on requested staffing levels; (2) information on claims processing productivity, including how VBA plans to improve productivity; and (3) explanation of how claims complexity is expected to change and the impact of these changes on productivity and requested staffing levels.
Closed – Implemented
VA has provided information in its FY 2010 budget submission that addresses GAO's recommendation. (1) VA identified several factors driving its projections of increased disability claim filing. These included current military force size and operations; the effects of progressive conditions on older veterans; and current economic conditions. VA also provided projections of the impact of requested additional staffing on its production of claim decisions as well as its claim processing inventory and average decision time. (2) VA provided estimates of claim processing productivity. VA also identified several initiatives that could help improve productivity. For examples, continuing efforts to implement paperless claim processing; expansion of pre-discharge claims filing by servicemembers; participation in a pilot with DOD of a streamlined disability evaluation process; and consolidation of additional types of claims at VA's Pension Maintenance Centers. (3) VA provided data on original compensation claims filed by number of disabling conditions claimed, showing an increase in the filing of larger claims. VA also identified types of conditions that can be more complex to evaluate, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and diabetes.

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