January 11, 2016

Improving The Administration Of Veterans' Benefits

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

This is the third in a series of columns to discuss the findings from my 2015 Veterans Survey.  In this column, I will discuss the findings regarding the Veterans Benefits Administration.

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is one of the three unique branches of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The VBA administers a wide range of veterans' benefits, including compensation, vocational assistance and pensions.  Filing a claim is the initial step to seeking compensation for disabilities resulting from a veteran's military service.  Claims can be based on disabilities that existed when entering military service but were made worse, disabilities that occurred during service, or disabilities that arose after leaving military service.  For more information, please visit http://www.benefits.va/compensation/process.asp

I am grateful to the VBA personnel who process veterans' claims efficiently and seek to ensure that veterans can access needed benefits.  The work they do to ease paperwork burdens and keep veterans informed throughout the process is indispensable.  Many are working hard within the VBA to help veterans, as more than twice as many (53 percent) of survey participants characterized their interactions with VBA staff as "satisfying" or better compared to the twenty-two percent who found their interactions with VBA staff to be "dissatisfying" or worse.  Fifty-two percent of survey participants were "satisfied" or better with their overall experiences with the VBA, and 41 percent said their experiences with claims processing were "satisfying" or better.  Those who are working diligently on behalf of veterans deserve to be commended. 

However, the survey also showed that the VBA needs special attention.  Twenty-nine percent of survey participants were "dissatisfied" or worse with their experiences with the VBA, and 39 percent characterized their experiences with claims processing as "dissatisfying" or worse.  My staff and I are working with the veterans community to identify ways to improve the VBA's ability to serve veterans.  Specifically, I will focus on working with VBA leadership to improve the following issues:            

  • Pace-Participants frequently found the VBA's pace to be slow and expressed frustrations with delays in claims processing.
  • Accessibility-Participants frequently stated that telephone assistance was poor and that they often could not reach a person to help them.  Several individuals claimed they had never interacted with the VBA because they were not aware of benefits available to them.
  • Claims Consideration- A large portion of participants expressed their sense that the VBA's general policy is to deny all claims and require veterans to go through an appeals process before a claim is fully considered. 
  • Travel Reimbursements-Many individuals expressed frustrations with changes to travel reimbursement processes that result in lengthy delays and undue burden on many rural veterans who cannot afford high travel costs. 

The survey results help guide my efforts to improve services available to veterans and can be found on my official website at www.crapo.senate.gov.  I am continuing to work to addressother critical issues that emerged from the survey results, including travel-related challenges and wait times for appointments.

Additionally, those seeking to file claims with the VA may wish to learn more about the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program, an optional initiative that offers veterans and survivors faster decisions from the VA on compensation, pension and survivor benefits claims.  More information about the FDC program can be accessed at http://www.benefits.va.gov/FDC/index.asp.  If you find yourself in need of assistance with a specific agency, please contact the staff in one of my regional offices to discuss your situation.  More information regarding assistance, including contact information, the required privacy release form and frequently asked questions, can be accessed through my official website, at www.crapo.senate.gov

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