RAO Davao City

United States Military Retiree Activities Office Davao City, Philippines

VA CLAIM BACKLOG UPDATE 4 June 2008

Posted by Service Officer on June 4th, 2008

In fiscal 2007, VA employed 4,900 staff to handle disability compensation claims, a 40% increase between fiscal 2000 and 2006. Still, in 2007, VA had a backlog of 392,000 claims with an average waiting time of more than four months. This year, VA plans to add 3,100 new claims-processing employees. Although the Veterans Affairs Department has added thousands of staff to help process disability claims, a new study finds those new employees face no consequences if they don’t attend mandatory training. And because the caseload is so heavy, instructors aren’t always available to provide on-the-job training for new employees. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released 26 MAY that the VBA “is taking steps to strategically plan its training, but does not adequately evaluate its training and may be falling short in some areas of training design and implementation”. Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, asked GAO to find out what training is provided and whether it is uniform; how well it is implemented and evaluated; and how it compares with performance management practices in the private sector. The questions came after veterans testified that the disability compensation system is Byzantine in complexity, and that it takes months — sometimes years — to make it through the process.

 

From SEP 07 to MAY 08, GAO looked at four VBA regional offices, in Atlanta; Baltimore; Milwaukee; and Portland OR. VA officials said it takes at least two years to properly train disability claims employees, and they must complete 80 hours of training a year. New employees have three weeks of intense classroom training before they begin several months of on-the-job training at their home offices. But “because the agency has no policy outlining consequences for individual staff who do not complete their 80 hours of training per year, individual staff are not held accountable for meeting their annual training requirement,” the GAO found. “And, at present, VBA central office lacks the ability to track training completed by individual staff members.” In 2007, VBA conducted 67 centralized training sessions for 1,458 new claims processors, compared with 27 sessions for 678 new employees in 2006.nVBA’s online training tool, the Training and Performance Support System, was found to be out of date, too theoretical, and lacking in real-life examples. Employees at one office did not know what the system was.

GAO also found that more experienced staff members felt training was not helpful because it was redundant or was not specific to the work they do, and some said the training is adapted directly from training for new employees. They also said they did not have time to spend 80 hours a year in training because their caseloads are too heavy. “A number of staff from one regional office noted that instructors were unable to spend time teaching because of their heavy workloads and because instructors’ training preparation hours do not count toward the 80-hour training requirement,” the GAO said. “Staff at another regional office told us that, due to workload pressures, staff may rush through training and may not get as much out of it as they should.” GAO found VBA’s performance management conforms to accepted practices in the private sector, except that almost all employees fell into two standards: “outstanding” or “fully successful.” GAO auditors said that does not provide constructive feedback to employees, and is not a good way for managers to evaluate staffs.

GAO recommended that VBA collect feedback on training from regional offices to see if 80 hours is the right amount for all staff, to see if training is relevant and to see if the online training tool needs to be improved. The report also recommended that VBA hold individual staff members accountable if they do not receive their annual training, and that the performance rating system be adjusted. VA said such changes are already in the works. Officials also are working on an automated system to track which employees have attended training and how much they received. VA Secretary James Peake wrote in response to the report. “VA will closely monitor and evaluate the success of our efforts to enhance claims processor performance.” Peake said that VA has an “active program for training evaluation driven by the administration’s priorities”; that the 80-hour requirement is evaluated annually; that VA officials will evaluate the training through its regional offices; that supervisors will evaluate training at the individual level; and that they have already evaluated the on-line learning tool and have made recommendations for improvement. VA also plans to establish training specific to certain jobs, and to provide standardized training progress reports. [Source: Air Force Times Kelly Kennedy article Posted 28 MAY 0-8 ++]

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