Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits
Veterans Benefits Administration
Department of Veterans Affairs
Senator Barack ObalTia and Congressman Luis Gutierrez
July 6, 2005
[Mr. Obama and Mr. Gutierrez, thank you for the opportunity to talk with you
today about a critical benefit for veterans - disability compensation.]
This morning I will discuss the issue of pay disparities for disability
compensation benefits and the ongoing initiatives of the Department of Veterans
Affairs (VA)to ensureconsistencyin disability rating decisions.I yvillalso providean.
overview of our efforts to support returning service members and their families.
Review of State Variances inVA Disability Compensation Payments
Consistency in disability evaluations and payments to veterans has become a
very visible concern in recent months. When the issue of consistency was first
raised, the Secretary asked the Inspector General (lG) to review and evaluate the
factors that contribute to state variances in VA disability compensation payments.
The IG published its review report on May 19, 2005, citing a number of
complex and intervening factors that influence variances in disability compensation
payments. Several recommendations were included to address the variance in
disability compensation payments. VBA concurs in the recommendations and has
efforts underway to implement them.
Improvements Underway at the Chicago Regional Office
Considerable attention has been focused on the Chicago Regional Office's
low average annual disability compensation payment per veteran. However, when
measured on an annual basis, average payments to veterans in Illinois increased,
development of a piloteffort to provide itinerant outreach services to veterans at
IDVA's offices in Springfield. Thiseffort will enable us to provide increased direct
service to veterans in that part of the state.
In conjunction with the pilot, the Chicago RO will provide training to
representatives from local service organization posts who assist veterans with
benefit claims. The goal is to increase the knowledge of these community-based
representatives who are widely dispersed throughout the state so they can be more
effective in their outreach and assistanceefforts.
AchievingConsistency Across VBA
Quality and consistency are goals that have been at the center of VBA's
efforts for the past three years. Achieving consistency and quality in our regional
office operations ensures veterans in every state receive the benefits and service
they have earned. Critical to our success is our standardized work management
model for claims processing. Under the Claims Processing Improvement Model,
veterans service center employees in every regional office are aligned into
specialized teams designed to expedite claims processing, increase the quality of
decision making, and ensure staff expertise.
Training, both for new employees and to raise the skill levels of the more
experienced staff; is obviously key to consistency in our rating decisions. VBA
deployed new training tools and centralized training programs that support greater
consistency. Training materials and satellite broadcasts on the proper approach to
rating complex issues have been provided to every field station. Regulations that
contain the Schedule for Rating Disabilities have been revised to eliminate
ambiguous rating criteria and replace them with objective rating criteria wherever
Accuracy is monitored through VBA's Systematic Technical Accuracy
Review (STAR) - a centralized program that measures national accuracy using
statistically valid sampling. STAR findings are distributed to field stations and shared
with training staff for incorporation into computer-based training modules, and other
Regional office operations are monitored continually to identify areas where
quality improvements can be made and processing efficiencies can be realized. Site
visits are conducted on a regular basis to assess station management, operating
performance, training, and workload management. Training is provided by the site
visit team as needed.
~ -- -COTfcurrenrWittloUrfocuson-consistency,.VfS;.--is worRin~rf1ara-to ensure marmilitary
members have a "seamless transition" from active duty to VA's benefits and
health care systems. VA employees provide services at 140 military bases, where
they meet with and counsel service members about their VA benefits and how to file
for those benefits as they approach discharge. VA has professional staff at the
Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda,
the Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany, and other key military medical
facilities to ensure our wounded service members are aware of their VA health care
and benefits long before they are discharged.
We have implemented case management procedures for seriously disabled
service members of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) to
ease their transition to veteran status and ensure the coordinated delivery of benefits
and services. Every regional office and medical center has a designated OEF/OIF
coordinator who reaches out to and communicates with injured service members,
and ensures their health needs are met and their benefit claims are processed
VA strives to honor each new veteran and their family with compassion and
dignity. Our challenge is to ensure that all regional offices are generating
consistently accurate and timely decisions that provide the maximum benefits to
,which veterans are entitled.
[This completes my statement, and I will be happy to answer any questions
you might have.]
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