07.09.08

Burr Calls For Improvement To Veterans Disability Claims Process

Emphasizes need for automation and updated disability rating schedule

U.S. Senator Richard Burr today called for improvement to the veterans disability claims process during a hearing for the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Veterans applying for disability benefits usually wait six months for a decision. Over 390,000 disability claims are pending review, among the highest levels in ten years. Congress has increased funding and staffing levels at VA to improve efficiency but little progress has been made.

"For many years, VA's claims processing system has been plagued by large backlogs and long delays," Burr said. "Veterans back in North Carolina regularly tell me how frustrated they are with this confusing process. Simply throwing more money and more personnel at the problem clearly hasn't been the solution. We need better answers and new ideas to solve this problem once and for all. That may include the increased use of technology and converting to a fully electronic claims process."

The Veterans Health Administration uses an electronic records system that has been widely praised. Also, a few other VA programs are almost completely paperless and have been able to take great advantage of electronic recordkeeping. While VA has developed pilot programs using electronic records for disability claims processing, the system as a whole continues to use paper records and an array of software programs with little integration. A 2008 study conducted by IBM Global Business Services reported that processing times could be significantly reduced by using electronic records.

Although Burr emphasized the need for VA to move forward with making the claims process paper-less, he also warned that lasting improvements in the claims process may require more than just automation and a few small changes.

"Commissions and studies have stressed for more than five decades the need to update VA's disability rating schedule, a tool that is the cornerstone of the entire claims process. Without updating this critical part of the claims system, we may succeed in speeding up the process, but the results for veterans may be no better," Burr added.

Burr has introduced legislation, the America's Wounded Warriors Act (S. 2674), that would require VA to replace its outdated disability rating schedule with a new schedule that is based on modern science and medicine. It would also take into account the impact that a disability has on both a veteran's average loss of earning capacity and loss of quality of life. A veteran who already receives disability compensation would have the choice of keeping their current benefits (with cost of living increases) for the rest of their life or being rated under the new schedule.