In 2008, Congress ordered the VA to review its work-credit system. A 75-page report produced by the Center for Naval Analysis in 2009 recommended the VA address perceptions that quantity receives more emphasis than quality, by changing the tasks that receive points to better reflect the actual work.
“This is one of the reasons why, as some managers noted, the inventory of old claims consists disproportionately of ‘difficult’ cases,” the report said.
A claims processor in Reno told News21 that this “breeds cheating” and that he has seen employees who aren’t making enough points go into “survival mode” and process only easy claims. Shifting performance points to reward backlog-related work would be more effective, said the worker, who, like others, requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“Your backlog is over here. But your points are in this direction. How stupid is that?” asked the worker.
Promise to veterans
Damon Wood’s disability claim for PTSD, ringing in the ear and a bad back and knee has been cycling for 21 months through a fortified federal office building in a corporate park on the outskirts of Reno.
He quit checking its status online because it hadn’t changed for more than 11 months. When he tried calling the Reno regional office for more help, he was diverted to one of VA’s eight national call centers.
“Your hands are tied by the people who actually have the claim in their hands,” Wood said. “So you can’t do anything more or anything less. It’s up to them.”
Fran Lynch, a former Seattle claims processor and exam consultant, said the VA built a “wall of separation” between the workers and the veteran.
“People form opinions about veterans based on paperwork, and they make decisions based on those opinions without ever really knowing the guys’ circumstance,” he said.
Allison Hickey, VA undersecretary of benefits, promised veterans in April that the more than 65,000 claims two years old or older would get a temporary or permanent decision by June 19, while those waiting more than a year would be considered by October.
For the third consecutive year, the VA mandated 20 hours per month of overtime for employees for part of this year to meet the deadlines, costing the agency approximately $44 million. In June, the VBA processed a record 110,000 claims, officials said.
Darin Selnick, a VA political appointee in the George W. Bush administration, called the quickly finished claims an old “sleight-of-hand trick.” Selnick said regional office directors and central office staffers misled VA leadership during the past decade with similar numbers games that disguised the problem and kicked the can down the road.