Agency Expects to Process 1.3 Million by Year’s End
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has completed its one millionth disability claim in fiscal year 2014, and is on track to complete more than 1.3 million claims this year – ensuring that nearly 200,000 more Veterans will receive decisions on their disability claims than fiscal year 2013. Since 2011, VBA has been implementing the largest transformation in its history, fundamentally redesigning and streamlining the way it provides benefits and services to Veterans, their families and survivors.
“VBA has made significant progress toward eliminating the backlog, but there is more work to be done to reach our goal of processing all disability claims within 125 days at a 98-percent accuracy level in 2015.” said Allison Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits. “VBA’s employees, half of whom are Veterans themselves, believe that Veterans should not have to wait for the benefits they have earned and deserve. While we work to drive down the backlog of disability claims, we must also improve productivity on other categories of non-rating work.”
In the past four fiscal years, VA surpassed one million completed claims by the end of each year. Passing the one-million mark this year in early July represents major progress in providing more Veterans and their family members with timely, accurate decisions. VBA has reduced the claims backlog by more than 55 percent from its peak of 611,000 in March 2013 – and Veterans with pending claims have been waiting, on average, 128 fewer days for a decision on their claim. At the same time, the accuracy of rating decisions continues to improve. VA’s national “claim-level” accuracy rate is currently 91 percent – an eight-percentage-point improvement since 2011.
These rating decisions often determine eligibility for other VA benefits and services, including non-rating claims, which are tracked and managed in other categories on the Monday Morning Workload Report. These categories also have increased as more rating claims are completed, but VBA has not lost focus on non-rating work. VBA has taken the following actions to automate and improve the timeliness and accuracy of non-rating claim decisions:
Online Dependency Claims – VBA developed a new Rules-Based Processing System (RBPS) to automate dependency claims. Since inception, self-service features in RBPS have enabled over 75,000 Veterans to add or change the status of their dependents online. Over 50 percent of the dependency claims filed through RBPS are now automatically processed and paid in 1-2 days.
Dependency Claims Contract – VA recently awarded a contract for assistance in entering data from paper-based dependency claims into VA’s electronic rules-based processing system. The contractor is entering the information from the paper-based dependency claims just as a claimant would enter information if filing the claim online. The contract calls for 40,000 dependency claims to be processed per month when operating at full capacity. The contractor is currently ramping up to that capacity.
Up-front Income Verification for Pension – A new data-sharing initiative with the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service enables VBA to verify the income of pension applicants before awarding benefits and eliminates the annual income reporting requirement for pension beneficiaries.
Burial Claims – VBA published a new regulation, effective July 7, 2014, that allows automatic payment of the one-time burial allowance to a Veteran’s spouse without requiring the surviving spouse to apply for the benefit. Under this new regulation, as many as 62,000 surviving spouses will now receive timely burial benefits each year.
Drill Pay Adjustments – Veterans cannot legally receive VA benefits and drill pay concurrently. VBA is working to streamline and automate the drill pay offset process through an upfront agreement from National Guard and Reserve members.
National Call Center Initiative – Effective July 14, employees at the St. Louis and Phoenix National Call Centers are now also processing dependency claims. The initiative begins on July 14 at the St. Louis and Phoenix Regional Offices and will be expanded to all of our Call Centers shortly thereafter.
Hiring Temporary Employees – VBA is in the process of hiring 200 temporary employees, who will be provided specialized training in processing the less complex non-rating claims and work actions.
VBA posts data on the disability claims backlog, the non-rating workload, and other publicly available data on our performance on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis through our reports web site: www.vba.va.gov/reports. For more information about disability and other Veterans benefits, visit www.ebenefits.va.gov.