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Highlights

In response to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) appeals process for disability compensation and pension decisions, to determine whether VA could improve the timeliness of its appeals process without detriment to quality.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Veterans Affairs 1. To improve the processing of veterans' appeals, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should analyze the regional and BVA appeals process in detail to identify when and where delays occur and take steps to reduce the time for the appeals process.
Closed - Implemented
VA installed extensive changes to its automated tracking systems. These changes will enable VA to analyze regional office and BVA appeals processing for unnecessary delays and take action to reduce those delays.
Department of Veterans Affairs 2. To improve the processing of veterans' appeals, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should improve the guidance and oversight of the regional offices. At a minimum, VA should: (1) develop time standards for processing appeals; (2) provide the regional offices more definitive criteria on how recent medical examinations need to be for cases sent to BVA and which staff should accept veterans' notices of disagreement; and (3) enforce regional office compliance with VA procedures.
Closed - Implemented
The VA Timeliness Review Study Panel completed its analysis of 4 months of data compiled in the central office and three regional offices. The panel proposed timeliness standards for appeals processing, which have been incorporated into Manual 21-4. VA has initiated action to implement the second and third parts of this recommendation.
Department of Veterans Affairs 3. To improve the processing of veterans' appeals, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should designate a focal point with the responsibility to lead efforts to improve the management and timeliness of the appeals process. Initially, emphasis should be placed on resolving the problems related to: (1) redesigning the Veterans Appeals Records Management System; (2) the eligibility criteria for hearing loss; and (3) obtaining timely medical examinations from VA medical facilities.
Closed - Implemented
A VA task force is reviewing systematic analyses of all VA central office organizations. VA replaced its Veterans Appeals Records Management System with a new tracking system. VA published eligibility criteria for hearing loss in the Federal Register. VA medical facilities submit all medical examinations to regional offices electronically. VA efforts to designate a focal point are being considered.
Department of Veterans Affairs 4. To improve the processing of veterans' appeals, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should modify data collection methods to account for all the time spent on appeals, thereby providing more complete data for management and Congress.
Closed - Implemented
VA action to track claims will provide comprehensive data on appeals, specifically time spent in remand status, for management and for reporting to Congress.

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