The March 2014 report of the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) Claims Backlog Working Group was released during today's press conference in Washington conducted by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Bob Casey, D-Pa.
The working group, put together in July 2013 by Heller and Casey, proposed several improvements to VA's claims process that could help to ensure more accurate and timely decision-making, thereby reducing the claims backlog.
Louis Celli, Legislative director of The American Legion, said, "It is especially important that the working group reached out to the veteran stakeholders from the very beginning." With more than 2,900 accredited representatives working nationwide to help veterans receive their earned benefits, Celli said the Legion "has gained valuable insight into the claims process that can help to find solutions that will work."
The working group's report focused on three areas of improvement:
1. Veterans must be given every tool to understand the claims process and what they can do to provide information that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) needs. To help accomplish this, veterans need to be better educated about the claims process, they need direct access to veterans service organizations for assistance, and the submission of fully developed claims (FDCs) needs to be incentivized with monetary benefits.
The American Legion has played a leading role in VA's FDC program and has helped to increase their numbers through the efforts of more than 2,900 accredited representatives nationwide who help veterans file their claims.
2. VBA and VA's regional offices (VAROs) must make structural changes to ensure that claims are being processed accurately and efficiently, ensuring accountability and oversight of VARO management, efficient processing of claims electronically, and improvement of transparency to the public on the size and scope of the current backlog.
The American Legion passed Resolution 99 at its August 2012 national convention in Indianapolis, which calls on VBA to increase transparency in its claims processing.
3. The federal government must make veterans' benefits claims a priority. Many delays in claims processing are created because VBA requires evidence to prove claims that are held by outside agencies. To improve the process, federal agencies need to transfer requested information more rapidly, and VBA employees must process that information in a timely fashion.
Heller has introduced legislation, the "21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act," designed to improve the claims submission process, practices at VBA regional offices and federal agency responses to VA requests for information.
For an overview of the working group's report, click here.