September 22, 2021

News

News Network

Veterans’ Disability Benefits: Processing of Claims Continues to Present Challenges

14 min read
<div>The Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, House Veterans' Affairs Committee, asked GAO to discuss its recent work related to the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) disability claims and appeals processing. GAO has reported and testified on this subject on numerous occasions. GAO's work has addressed VA's efforts to improve the timeliness of decisions on claims and appeals and VA's efforts to reduce backlogs.VA continues to face challenges in improving service delivery to veterans, specifically speeding up the process of adjudication and appeal, and reducing the existing backlog of claims. For example, as of the end of fiscal year 2006, rating-related compensation claims were pending an average of 127 days, 16 days more than at the end of fiscal year 2003. During the same period, the inventory of rating-related claims grew by almost half, in part because of increased filing of claims, including those filed by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Meanwhile, appeals resolution remains a lengthy process, taking an average of 657 days in fiscal year 2006. However, several factors may limit VA's ability to make and sustain significant improvements in its claims-processing performance, including the potential impacts of laws and court decisions, continued increases in the number and complexity of claims being filed, and difficulties in obtaining the evidence needed to decide claims in a timely manner, such as military service records. VA is taking steps to address these problems. For example, the President's fiscal year 2008 budget requests an increase of over 450 full-time equivalent employees to process compensation claims. VA is also working to improve appeals timeliness by reducing appeals remanded for further work. While VA is taking actions to address its claims-processing challenges, opportunities for significant performance improvement may lie in more fundamental reform of VA's disability compensation program. This could include reexamining program design such as updating the disability criteria to reflect the current state of science, medicine, technology, and labor market conditions. It could also include examining the structure and division of labor among field offices.</div>

The Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, asked GAO to discuss its recent work related to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) disability claims and appeals processing. GAO has reported and testified on this subject on numerous occasions. GAO’s work has addressed VA’s efforts to improve the timeliness of decisions on claims and appeals and VA’s efforts to reduce backlogs.

VA continues to face challenges in improving service delivery to veterans, specifically speeding up the process of adjudication and appeal, and reducing the existing backlog of claims. For example, as of the end of fiscal year 2006, rating-related compensation claims were pending an average of 127 days, 16 days more than at the end of fiscal year 2003. During the same period, the inventory of rating-related claims grew by almost half, in part because of increased filing of claims, including those filed by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Meanwhile, appeals resolution remains a lengthy process, taking an average of 657 days in fiscal year 2006. However, several factors may limit VA’s ability to make and sustain significant improvements in its claims-processing performance, including the potential impacts of laws and court decisions, continued increases in the number and complexity of claims being filed, and difficulties in obtaining the evidence needed to decide claims in a timely manner, such as military service records. VA is taking steps to address these problems. For example, the President’s fiscal year 2008 budget requests an increase of over 450 full-time equivalent employees to process compensation claims. VA is also working to improve appeals timeliness by reducing appeals remanded for further work. While VA is taking actions to address its claims-processing challenges, opportunities for significant performance improvement may lie in more fundamental reform of VA’s disability compensation program. This could include reexamining program design such as updating the disability criteria to reflect the current state of science, medicine, technology, and labor market conditions. It could also include examining the structure and division of labor among field offices.

More from:

News Network

  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Borrell
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Anne Claire Coudray of TF1
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Return Preparer Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud the United States
    In Crime News
    A Florida return preparer pleaded guilty yesterday in the Southern District of Florida to conspiracy to defraud the United States.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Father & Son Moving & Storage in Billerica, Massachusetts, for Unlawfully Auctioning Off Belongings of Deployed Servicemember
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit in the District of Massachusetts alleging that PRTaylor Enterprises LLC, a company doing business as Father & Son Moving & Storage (Father & Son), violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by failing to obtain a court order before auctioning off the entire contents of a U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant’s two storage units while he was deployed overseas.
    [Read More…]
  • Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya, Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth, and Senior Advisor to the USAID Administrator and Executive Director of the USAID Northern Triangle Task Force Michael Camilleri On the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy and Root Causes Strategy Toward Migration
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Marta Costanzo Youth, [Read More…]
  • Homelessness: Better HUD Oversight of Data Collection Could Improve Estimates of Homeless Population
    In U.S GAO News
    Data collected through the Point-in-Time (PIT) count—a count of people experiencing homelessness on a single night—have limitations for measuring homelessness. The PIT count is conducted each January by Continuums of Care (CoC)—local homelessness planning bodies that apply for grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and coordinate homelessness services. The 2019 PIT count estimated that nearly 568,000 people (0.2 percent of the U.S. population) were homeless, a decline from the 2012 count of about 621,500 but a slight increase over the period's low of about 550,000 in 2016. While HUD has taken steps to improve data quality, the data likely underestimate the size of the homeless population because identifying people experiencing homelessness is inherently difficult. Some CoCs' total and unsheltered PIT counts have large year-over-year fluctuations, which raise questions about data accuracy. GAO found that HUD does not closely examine CoCs' methodologies for collecting data to ensure they meet HUD's standards. HUD's instructions to CoCs on probability sampling techniques to estimate homelessness were incomplete. Some CoC representatives also said that the assistance HUD provides on data collection does not always meet their needs. By strengthening its oversight and guidance in these areas, HUD could further improve the quality of homelessness data. To understand factors associated with homelessness in recent years, GAO used PIT count data to conduct an econometric analysis, which found that rental prices were associated with homelessness. To mitigate data limitations, GAO used data from years with improved data quality and took other analytical steps to increase confidence in the results. CoC representatives GAO interviewed also identified rental prices and other factors such as job loss as contributing to homelessness. Estimated Homelessness Rates and Household Median Rent in the 20 Largest Continuums of Care (CoC), 2018 Note: This map shows the 20 largest Point-in-Time counts by CoC in 2018. GAO estimated 2018 homelessness rates because the U.S. Census Bureau data used to calculate these rates were available up to 2018 at the time of analysis. GAO used 2017 median rents (in 2018 dollars) across all unit sizes and types. Policymakers have raised concerns about the extent to which recent increases in homelessness are associated with the availability of affordable housing. Moreover, counting the homeless population is a longstanding challenge. GAO was asked to review the current state of homelessness in the United States. This report examines (1) efforts to measure homelessness and HUD's oversight of these efforts and (2) factors associated with recent changes in homelessness. GAO analyzed three HUD data sources on homelessness and developed an econometric model of the factors influencing changes in homelessness. GAO also conducted structured interviews with 12 researchers and representatives of 21 CoCs and four focus groups with a total of 34 CoC representatives responsible for collecting and maintaining homelessness data. CoCs were selected for interviews and focus groups to achieve diversity in size and geography. GAO also visited three major cities that experienced recent increases in homelessness. GAO recommends that HUD (1) conduct quality checks on CoCs' data-collection methodologies, (2) improve its instructions for using probability sampling techniques to estimate homelessness, and (3) assess and enhance the assistance it provides to CoCs on data collection. HUD concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-8678 or cackleya@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Operation Legend: Case of the Day
    In Crime News
    A Detroit man was charged in federal court with drug trafficking and illegally possessing a firearm.
    [Read More…]
  • Two Indicted for $2 Million Scheme that Defrauded Over 20 Investors
    In Crime News
    An indictment charging a District of Columbia man and Connecticut woman with perpetrating an advance fee and investment fraud scheme that defrauded more than 20 victims of more than $2 million was unsealed today in the District of Columbia.
    [Read More…]
  • Three Texas Men Sentenced to Prison for Using Dating App to Target Gay Men for Violent Crimes
    In Crime News
    Three Texas men were sentenced yesterday for violent crimes.
    [Read More…]
  • Charges Unsealed Against Former Chadian Diplomats to the U.S. Charged in Connection with International Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme
    In Crime News
    An indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. was unsealed on May 20, 2021, charging the Republic of Chad’s former Ambassador to the United States and Canada and Chad’s former Deputy Chief of Mission for the United States and Canada with soliciting and accepting a $2 million bribe from a Canadian start-up energy company, and conspiring to launder the bribe payment in order to conceal its true nature.
    [Read More…]
  • Drug Control: International Programs Face Significant Challenges Reducing the Supply of Illegal Drugs but Support Broad U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives
    In U.S GAO News
    The overall goal of the U.S. National Drug Control Strategy, prepared by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), is to reduce illicit drug use in the United States. GAO has issued more than 20 products since 2000 examining U.S.-funded international programs aimed at reducing the supply of drugs. These programs have been implemented primarily in drug source countries, such as Colombia and Afghanistan as well drug transit countries, such as Mexico, Guatemala, and Venezuela. They have included interdiction of maritime drug shipments on the high seas, support for foreign military and civilian institutions engaged in drug eradication, detection, and interdiction; and rule of law assistance aimed at helping foreign legal institutions investigate and prosecute drug trafficking, money laundering, and other drug-related crimes.GAO's work on U.S.-funded international counternarcotics-related programswork has centered on four major topics: (1) Counternarcotics-related programs have had mixed results. In Afghanistan, Colombia, and drug transit countries, the United States and partner nations have only partially met established targets for reducing the drug supply. In Afghanistan, opium poppy eradication efforts have consistently fallen short of targets. Plan Colombia has met its goals for reducing opium and heroin but not coca crops, although recent data suggest that U.S.-supported crop eradication efforts over time may have caused a significant decline in potential cocaine production. Data also indicate an increase in coca cultivation in Peru and Bolivia that may eventually offset these declines. Interdiction programs have missed their performance targets each year since goals were established in 2007. (2) Several factors have limited program effectiveness. Various factors have hindered these programs' ability to reduce the supply of illegal drugs. In some cases, we found that U.S. agencies had not planned for the sustainment of programs, particularly those providing interdiction boats in transit countries. External factors include limited cooperation from partner nations due to corruption or lack of political support, and the highly adaptive nature of drug producers and traffickers. (3) Counternarcotics-related programs often advance broader foreign policy objectives. The value of these programs cannot be assessed based only on their impact on the drug supply. Many have supported other U.S. foreign policy objectives relating to security and stabilization, counterinsurgency, and strengthening democracy and governance. For example, in Afghanistan, the United States has combined counternarcotics efforts with military operations to combat insurgents as well as drug traffickers. U.S. support for Plan Colombia has significantly strengthened Colombia's security environment, which may eventually make counterdrug programs, such as alternative agricultural development, more effective. In several cases, U.S. rule of law assistance, such as supporting courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement organizations, has furthered both democracy-building and counterdrug objectives. (4) Judging the effectiveness of some programs is difficult. U.S. agencies often lack reliable performance measurement and results reporting needed to assess all the impacts of counterdrug programs. In Afghanistan, opium eradication measures alone were insufficient for a comprehensive assessment of U.S. efforts. Also, the State Department has not regularly reported outcome-related information for over half of its programs in major drug transit countries. Furthermore, DOD's counternarcotics-related measures were generally not useful for assessing program effectiveness or making management decisions. GAO has made recommendations to the Departments of Defense (DOD) and State and other agencies to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of U.S. counternarcotics- related programs. In particular, GAO has recommended that these agencies develop plans to sustain these programs. GAO has also recommended that they improve performance measurement and results reporting to assess program impacts and to aid in decision making. Agencies have efforts under way to implement some of these recommendations.
    [Read More…]
  • Global Disruption of Three Terror Finance Cyber-Enabled Campaigns
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced the dismantling of three terrorist financing cyber-enabled campaigns, involving the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). This coordinated operation is detailed in three forfeiture complaints and a criminal complaint unsealed today in the District of Columbia. These actions represent the government’s largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency in the terrorism context.
    [Read More…]
  • CBP Mobile Passport Control (MPC) Mobile Application Privacy Policy
    In Travel
    Thank you for [Read More…]
  • Mortality in State and Federal Prisons, 2001-2018 – Statistical Tables
    In Justice News
    (Publication)
    This report presents detailed statistical tables on mortality in state and federal prisons. It provides information on cause of death; decedent characteristics, and mortality rates of inmate populations.
    4/29/2021, NCJ 255970, E. Ann Carson [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Press Availability
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Central and Southwest Asian Countries: Trends in U.S. Assistance and Key Economic, Governance, and Demographic Characteristics
    In U.S GAO News
    Following the terrorist attacks of September 2001, prosecuting the global war on terrorism became the United States' primary foreign policy priority. The United States focused its initial efforts on Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom because the country harbored elements of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. As a result, countries in the region--Pakistan and the five Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan--became frontline states in the war on terrorism, raising the profile of U.S. relations with these countries.Since the attacks of September 2001, the United States has broadened its priorities and increased its assistance and presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the five Central Asian republics--countries with significant political and economic challenges that may affect the United States' priorities and programs in the region. While not specific to all countries in the region, the United States continues to focus on priorities that were in place prior to September 2001: political and economic reform, nonproliferation, energy development, counternarcotics, and trafficking. However, since that time, the United States has emphasized enhanced security and counterterrorism relationships accompanied by increased military and economic assistance and U.S. military presence. For example, in fiscal year 2001 the United States provided about $342 million in assistance to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the five Central Asian republics. In fiscal year 2002, the United States planned to provide about $1.9 billion in assistance for these countries, primarily for Afghanistan and Pakistan.1 Further, since September 2001, the United States has deployed forces to a number of military facilities in the region to support U.S. operations in Afghanistan. These expanded activities and investments occur in an environment generally marked by authoritarian regimes, poor economic outlooks, and large youth populations vulnerable to the appeal of radical movements.
    [Read More…]
  • United States Trains Ukraine To Identify and Respond to the Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Targeted Assassinations
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Combating Wildlife Trafficking: Agencies Work to Address Human Rights Abuse Allegations in Overseas Conservation Programs
    In U.S GAO News
    U.S. agencies primarily use Leahy vetting as the enforcement mechanism to prevent U.S. funding for combating wildlife trafficking from supporting human rights abuses. Statutory provisions commonly referred to as "Leahy Laws" prohibit the U.S. government from using certain funds to assist units of foreign security forces where there is credible information they have committed a gross violation of human rights. The Department of State (State) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) generally consider park rangers to be foreign security forces that are authorized to search, detain, arrest, or use force against people, and thus subject to Leahy vetting, according to agency officials. State or USAID may provide funding to the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that it then uses to support park ranger activities. In those instances, FWS submits the candidates' applications to State for Leahy vetting. According to a State official, Leahy approval of a security force unit is good for 1 year, and State must vet individuals again if their unit continues to receive support from State or USAID funding sources. Both U.S. agencies and implementing partners took a variety of steps in response to recent allegations of human rights abuses by overseas park rangers. For example, a State official in the Central Africa region told GAO that while the Democratic Republic of the Congo embassy's vetting program has very strict control mechanisms, the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau requested quarterly reports to facilitate a review of all assistance to park rangers to ensure that any reported activities were vetted according to Leahy Laws. USAID officials told GAO that in addition to continuing Leahy vetting, the agency's response included strengthening human rights training and conducting a site visit to a park in the DRC where human rights abuses had allegedly occurred. According to officials, the visit involved speaking with beneficiaries to further understand the allegations and efforts to assess root causes, mitigate impacts, and stop future occurrences, including making referrals to appropriate law enforcement authorities if warranted. FWS officials also stated that they take seriously allegations that U.S implementing partners have supported park rangers who have committed human rights abuses. Since June 2019, the Department of the Interior has approved no new awards to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)—one of the implementing partners which has supported park rangers alleged to have committed human rights abuses. Moreover, the International Affairs program within FWS has put all new funding on hold since September 2019, pending a departmental review. Agencies are also implementing various changes in response to congressional directives on safeguarding human rights. For example, State officials told GAO that they have added language to all notices for countering wildlife trafficking awards that requires implementing partners to include social safeguards plans in their projects. The plans will articulate an understanding of how their work could negatively affect local communities. USAID officials stated that USAID has included provisions in new agreements with FWS that require adherence to the congressional directives. FWS officials also confirmed that they are cooperating with USAID in these efforts. Implementing partners—WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and African Parks (AP)—have all conducted investigations to address allegations of human rights abuses by park rangers, according to officials from these organizations. They have also developed grievance mechanisms to report human rights abuses. For example, WWF has received 50 complaints in roughly the past year related to its project work, according to WWF representatives. WWF has responded to complaints of human rights abuses through this mechanism by reporting the allegations to relevant authorities and meeting with community representatives. U.S. agencies provide training and equipment for park rangers overseas to combat wildlife trafficking. From fiscal years 2014 through 2020, the U.S. government provided approximately $554 million to undertake a range of activities through federal agencies and in cooperation with implementing partner organizations in the field. Multiple non-governmental organization and media reports, however, have alleged that organizations that have received U.S. funds have supported park rangers engaged in combating wildfire trafficking who have committed human rights violations since the mid-2000s. GAO was asked to review human rights protection mechanisms related to U.S. efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. This report examines 1) what enforcement mechanisms agencies have to prevent U.S. funded efforts to combat wildlife trafficking from supporting human rights abuses and how they implement them, and 2) how agencies and implementing partners address allegations of human rights abuses. GAO spoke with agency officials and implementing partner representatives locally in person and overseas by phone, and collected and analyzed information related to program implementation. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Facebook for Discriminating Against U.S. Workers
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it filed a lawsuit against Facebook Inc. for discriminating against U.S. workers. 
    [Read More…]
  • Preliminary Observations on the Use and Oversight of U.S. Coalition Support Funds Provided to Pakistan
    In U.S GAO News
    According to U.S. embassy officials in Islamabad and unclassified U.S. intelligence documents, since 2002, al Qaeda and the Taliban have used Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the border region to attack Pakistani, Afghan, U.S. and coalition troops; plan and train for attacks against U.S. interests; destabilize Pakistan; and spread radical Islamist ideologies that threaten U.S. interests. Since October 2001, the United States has provided Pakistan with over $10 billion for military, economic, and development activities in support of the critical U.S. national security goals of destroying terrorist threats and closing terrorist safe havens. A major component of this effort has been U.S. Coalition Support Funds (CSF) reimbursed to Pakistan. The purpose of CSF is to reimburse coalition countries for logistical and military support provided to United States military operations in the global war on terror. In Pakistan, reimbursements through CSF are intended to enable the government of Pakistan to attack terrorist networks in the FATA and stabilize the border areas. It is structured as a reimbursement mechanism in which the U.S. Department of Defense (Defense) policy is to validate that support was provided, costs were incurred, and these costs were incremental to normal Pakistani military operations. We were asked to assess how CSF reimbursements have been used to meet U.S. goals in Pakistan, and what controls exist to ensure that reimbursements are for legitimate claims.For the period covering October 2001 through June 2007, the United States reimbursed Pakistan about $5.56 billion in CSF for military operations in FATA and other support in the war on terror. CSF reimbursement funds are paid directly into the Pakistani government treasury and become sovereign funds. Once they become sovereign funds, the U.S. government has no oversight authority over these funds. In response to a Defense Inspector General review conducted in 2003, DOD implemented additional guidance to improve oversight of the CSF reimbursed to Pakistan. Moreover, in 2007, the Office of the Defense Representative to Pakistan (ODRP) began playing a larger role in overseeing CSF reimbursement claims. In performing oversight, ODRP reviews the Pakistani claims and indicates that to the best of their knowledge military support was provided and expenses were actually incurred. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) then validates that Pakistani operations listed were essential to support U.S. military operations in the theater. The claims are sent to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Comptroller, who (1) performs a macro-level review comparing the cost to similar operations, and (2) assesses whether the cost categories are reasonable, selected subcategories are reasonable compared to U.S. costs, and costs are consistent with previous claims. In addition, both the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and the State Department verify that the reimbursement is consistent with the U.S. government's National Security Strategy and that the CSF payment does not adversely impact the balance of power in the region. In recent months, Defense has disallowed or deferred a significantly greater amount of CSF reimbursement claims from Pakistan.
    [Read More…]
Network News © 2005 Area.Control.Network™ All rights reserved.