Veterans' BenefitsEffective Interaction Needed Within VA to Address Appeals Backlog Gao ID: HEHS-95-190 September 27, 1995
Veterans often wait months for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to decide their compensation and pension claims. In addition, the 40,000 veterans who appeal VA's decisions each year wait much longer---more than two years for a final decision, according to agency officials. GAO found that VA's appeals process is increasingly bogged down, and the outlook for the future is not bright. Legislation and court ruling expanded veterans' rights but also expanded VA's adjudication responsibilities. VA is having difficulty integrating these responsibilities into its already complex and unwieldy adjudication process. Since 1991, the number of appeals awaiting Board action has risen by 175 percent and the average processing time has increased by more than 50 percent. Studies by GAO, VA, and others have recommended the need for autonomous organizations in VA to work together to identify and resolve problems. Yet GAO found that problems continue to go unidentified and unresolved. Unless VA clearly defines its adjudication responsibilities, it will be unable to determine whether it has the resources to meet those responsibilities and whether new solutions may be needed, including laws amending VA's responsibilities or reconfiguring the agency.
GAO found that: (1) legislation and Court of Veterans Appeals' rulings have forced VA to integrate new adjudication responsibilities into its already unwieldy adjudication process; (2) since 1991, the number of appeals awaiting Board of Veterans Appeals' action has increased by over 175 percent and the average processing time has increased by over 50 percent; (3) the VA legal and organizational framework makes effective interaction among autonomous VA claims adjudication organizations essential to fair and efficient claims processing; (4) although VA believes it has implemented efficient problem solving mechanisms, problems are going unidentified and unresolved; (5) unless consistent Board interpretations are developed, VA decisions will continue to be remanded, delaying benefits for some veterans and increasing VA workloads; and (6) unless VA clearly defines its adjudication responsibilities, it can not determine whether it has adequate resources to meet those responsibilities and whether new solutions may be needed.Recommendations
Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.Director: Team: Phone: