WASHINGTON- Despite an influx of funds and staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the backlog of benefit claims is growing at record pace, leading lawmakers to call for a more modernized system.
A subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs met Thursday evening to discuss modern strategies for dealing with the agency’s backlog of close to one million claims. Despite increase in staff and funding, the Veterans Benefits Administration is still faced with a record amount of claims due to influx of returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a broken system characterized by lost paperwork and disregard to veterans’ needs. Such influx has presented the VBA with the challenge to deliver services to veterans in a timely and effective manner and to modernize the VBA’s disability claims process by improving employee training and certification, and enhancing the use of information technology.
Michael Ratajczak, a Decision Review Officer of the Cleveland Regional VA, testified on behalf of the American Federation of Government Employees, expressing confidence in the VBA’s ability to handle a backlog of a possible one million claims. When asked if the VA could handle the claims he answered, “Yes, we can. We can because we have to. We can't fail the people who have never failed us.”
Touching a bit on the enhancement of information technology, Ratajczak explained strategies for achieving a paperless file system, such as scanning and converting all initial claims into electronic format and making the scanned files easily accessible and transferable. “Converting those files to a paperless format will eliminate the need for costly physical transfer of claims files and reduce the possibility of losing important documents,” said Ratajczak.
He also suggested further training and education for VBA employees and urged the Subcommittee to clarify proper reviewer certification to ensure quality and accurate reviews of claims.