VA Disability Claims Processing Continues To Worsen, Report Finds
The Department of Veterans Affairs' processing time for disability claims this year increased by an average of six days, according to the department's annual report for Congress, McClatchy/Miami Herald reports.
The findings mean that VA is falling further behind in its "attempts to give veterans timely decisions on their disability claims," according to McClatchy/Herald.
The report outlines VA's goals for its disability, health and other benefit programs. The department has either made no progress or has fallen behind in improving its performance in more than half of its own goals, McClatchy/Herald reports. The processing of disability claims -- which VA has called the "most critical" benefits measure for veterans -- slowed for the third straight year.
According to the report, VA took an average of 183 days to process a claim in fiscal year 2007, the longest duration since tracking began five years ago. The department's 2007 goal was 160 days, and it has a long-term goal of 125 days. VA attributed the delays in part to the rising number of claims being submitted. The total number of pending disability claims rose from 377,681 to 391,257.
VA last year said the delays could be improved by hiring additional employees. The department this week announced it is hiring an additional 1,000 employees, increasing overtime and revamping training in an effort to streamline and expedite the process.
In the report, VA also stated that at least 95% of outpatient visits are scheduled within 30 days of patients' desired dates. However, the VA inspector general this year found that only 75% of the visits examined took place within 30 days. VA officials say they disagree with the findings and are looking into the issue.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said, "It is extremely frustrating to hear the song and dance that we are doing better when the reality is we are not," adding, "I want to say I'm surprised. But I'm not."
Bob Henke, VA's assistant secretary for management, said, "The VA sets goals to measure how we are doing so that we can continuously improve performance," adding, "We use goals to move and improve performance" (Adams, McClatchy/Miami Herald, 11/28).