On February 5, 2014, Representative Jon Runyan (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs conducted a hearing to review the current status and secondary effects of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) technology initiatives. Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) submitted a formal statement for the record for the hearing. Representatives from the veterans service organization community as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Defense Health Agency testified at the hearing.
The hearing focused on a number of issues; however, Chairman Runyan indicated that his primary reason for holding the hearing was because of his interest in improving the efficiencies of the VA benefits systems by streamlining and simplifying services to veterans, their families and survivors. The Chairman indicated he was eager to work with VA to implement reasonable changes and said he was optimistic that many of the actions VA has employed to date have made a positive change. However, he cautioned VA that as they strive to achieve the 125-day goal for claims in 2015, they must not prioritize an “appearance” of success over actual quantitative improvement.
Ranking Minority Member Dina Titus (D-NV) echoed the Chairman’s points, remarking that last fiscal year VA completed a record 1.7 million claims, reduced the time veterans had to wait for their claims, and cut the claims backlog by 35 percent. She also thanked the stakeholders present at the hearing for their help in reducing the backlog as well through their efforts and advice to veterans seeking benefits.
Paralyzed Veterans outlined a number of concerns in our statement. One particular concern is VA’s recent plan that they have outlined would require electronic forms submission when filing an initial claim. This plan, if enacted, would significantly disadvantage veterans in seeking their earned benefits. If a veteran doesn't express his intention to secure a benefit on the right form, he or she won't be recognized as having made a claim. The burden is on the veteran and VA’s duty to assist will be seriously diluted, potentially interfering with a veteran’s access to their rightful benefit. This is a path that Paralyzed Veterans is unwilling to endorse.
Additionally, Paralyzed Veterans' major concern at this point is the ability of VBA employees to effectively comprehend and implement the new transformation initiatives as these new programs are rolled out. VA employees are conscientious, hard working individuals; but the ongoing changes have been a challenge for the workforce. Paralyzed Veterans has often testified on the lack of good training programs by VA that provide adjudicators with the base of knowledge needed for the complicated job of claims processing. With all the changes going on, there often seems to be difficulty in getting the new policies, procedures or processes down to the lowest staff level. We believe this trend continues despite the transformation.
The changes to VBA systems have been good. However, if the changes are not closely monitored and sufficient time is not taken to ensure the changes are implemented correctly, it could easily lead to greater inaccuracy at the expense of the veteran. As the Chairman implied in his opening statement, numbers success is not the goal for VA; proper services for the veteran, their family and survivors is the true measure of success. Paralyzed Veterans will continue to closely monitor VA’s efforts to ensure this remains the goal.
Read Paralyzed Veterans of America's February 5, 2014, statement
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America on Capitol Hill