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VA's Efforts To Reduce Claims Backlog Will Not Succeed Unless Agency Addresses Broken Performance Standards And Other Workforce Issues, AFGE Cautions Congress

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- At a March 20th hearing of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, lawmakers and VA officials engaged in heated exchanges about the most effective way to reduce the VA's disability claims backlog and increase accuracy of claims determinations.  Both lawmakers and officials from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) referenced recommendations from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the exclusive representative of VA employees processing veterans' disability benefits at Regional Offices (RO) across the country.

In its written statement to the Committee, AFGE focused on several critical workforce issues that are essential to the success of VBA Transformation, including an overhaul of arbitrary performance standards, an end to training shortcuts by management, and a new system for allocating resources to ROs that supports, rather than punishes low performing offices.

"The VA is experiencing serious problems with recruiting and retaining quality employees, in part, because of its performance standards," said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. "We're constantly hearing from our members about the difficulty in meeting these standards and the increasing pressure from management that emphasizes quantity over quality. It's time for the agency to take meaningful steps in developing a program that is realistic and incorporates the perspective of organized labor."

VA Under Secretary for Benefits General Allison Hickey testified that the agency's new system for going paperless, the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), is already making headway toward faster claims processing.  However, as AFGE pointed out, the initial roll-out of VBMS has revealed significant glitches, and front line employees do not have effective avenues for sharing their valuable insight into system breakdowns.

"While we support electronic delivery systems that will improve the efficiency of processing claims, we have to make significant improvements to VBMS," said Cox. "The VA must incorporate the feedback from front line claims processors, as they deal with this system each and every day. It doesn't do us any good to brag about the use of the latest technology if it's only slowing down our employees who are delivering critical services to our veterans."

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