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VA needs to improve accuracy of claims decisions, vets tell Congress

The commander of the nation’s largest veterans organization warned lawmakers Tuesday that the Department of Veterans Affairs’ progress in reducing the size of the disability claims backlog is threatened by the number of mistakes the department makes on those claims.

The VA reported recently that it has cut the inventory of claims 20 percent from its peak of nearly 900,000 veterans since March.

“We are optimistic that recent efforts to move beyond an outdated, paper-based processing system will help [eliminate] the backlog of undecided claims, but unfortunately, accuracy remains a serious problem,” American Legion national commander Daniel Dellinger told a joint hearing before the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees.

The VA’s reports place the accuracy rate in the mid-80s, Dellinger noted. But the Legion’s action review teams working with VA regional offices are finding error rates as high as two-thirds, he added.

“That’s unacceptable,” Dellinger said. “And again, we all share in the obligation to correct the problem.”

Legion officials told the lawmakers that the VA work-credit system that rewards claims processors for the number of claims they complete causes some of the accuracy problems.

An employee may not do a thorough job of researching a claim “to make that quota,” said Verna Jones, the Legion’s director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation.

“As is, the work-credit system is counter-productive,” she testified. The Legion recommended overhauling the system.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said he shared “guarded optimism” about the VA’s performance.

“While we’ve seen a steady decline in the backlog, clearly there is much, much more work to do,” Sanders said. “Veterans deserve not only timely but accurate decisions.”