Veterans' Benefits:

Promising Claims-Processing Practices Need to Be Evaluated

HEHS-00-65: Published: Apr 7, 2000. Publicly Released: May 8, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Veterans Benefits Administration's (VBA) claims processing procedures, focusing on: (1) practices that individual regional offices believe have helped them improve the accuracy of their disability decisions and remand rates; and (2) VBA's efforts to evaluate and disseminate information on individual regional office practices that hold promise for improving accuracy and remand rates of regional offices nationwide.

GAO noted that: (1) the 55 regional offices responding to GAO's survey reported a total of 238 practices that they believe have helped improve the accuracy of their disability decisions and remand rates; (2) GAO grouped these practices into four broad areas of focus: (a) efforts to improve staff training, guidance, or accountability; (b) changes in supervisory or staffing structure; (c) efforts to develop evidence accurately and fully; and (d) efforts to communicate more effectively with veterans; (3) while many practices were similar, the mix and number of practices varied from office to office, and the regional offices viewed some practices as more effective than others in improving accuracy and remand rates; (4) however, the regional offices generally had not conducted evaluations to demonstrate a link between a specific practice and improvements in accuracy or remand rates; (5) similarly, VBA has not systematically evaluated regional office practices to identify best practices that hold the most promise for improving the claims-processing performance of regional offices across the nation; (6) in a 1995 report, GAO emphasized that VBA needed to systematically evaluate the effectiveness of regional offices' claims-processing practices to identify those that hold promise for improving the performance of regional offices nationwide; (7) VBA took steps in 1997 to identify potentially promising practices, however, it has neither followed up on this effort nor developed a system for evaluating promising practices and disseminating the results to regional offices; (8) regional office and VBA officials stated it would be beneficial if VBA evaluated and identified best practices so that regional offices could use their limited resources to try only the most promising practices; and (9) VBA officials told GAO they are planning to develop a system for evaluating promising practices but, to date, evaluation efforts have been limited to a few initiatives related to VBA's efforts to reengineer its business processes for adjudicating disability claims.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: During fiscal year 2001, VBA developed a draft process for regional office staff to submit promising practices to VBA headquarters for review and possible dissemination to other regions. At the end of the fiscal year, VBA was still reviewing the draft. VBA is developing an associated evaluation process for locally-developed practices that demonstrate improvements. In September 2002, VBA stated that it had reorganized its field offices into four areas. This reorganization was part of its implementation of the Claims Processing Task Force's recommendations. VBA believes this area structure is ideally suited for identifying and evaluating best practices. However, this does not address GAO's recommendation that VBA establish time frames for development and implementation of a formal plan for evaluating and disseminating information on practices that hold promise for improving the claims processing performance of regional offices. VBA plans no further action.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that VBA proceeds expeditiously, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to establish timeframes for development and implementation of a formal plan for evaluating and disseminating information on practices that hold promise for improving the claims-processing performance of regional offices nationwide. The Secretary should also consider including information on goals for and results of disseminating information on promising practices in the annual reports submitted under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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