VA Moves towards Eliminating Regional Offices
Posted on Nov 13, 2014
The VA Regional Office as a center for VA benefits decision making is on the way out, and VA is slowly implementing plans to eliminate the 53 different offices that decide veterans' claims. Instead, the decision making function will be consolidated into a a handful of super centers. The first step for claims is to eliminate Regional Offices as decision making centers and consolidating raters and Decision Review Officers into central locations. This meets the VA's goal of decision consistency and will eliminate problem offices which suffer chronic delays and poor office culture. Existing Regional Offices will only serve as customer service centers for veterans to talk to benefits counselors, but the people making the decisions will no longer be there. The VA has laid the ground work for this by establishing two central Evidence Intake Centers (EIC) for veterans to mail and fax evidence into and by converting to electronic files. Moreover, VA is moving towards a national que system in March 2015; the only reason to have this system is with consolidated offices.
It is unlikely that the VA will consolidate the offices into only two super centers at the Evidence Intake Centers. However, VA will not use any of the existing Regional Offices as bases for decision makers and will likely create entirely new centers. The VA is trying to overcome the bureaucratic inertia and dysfunction that exists in many Regional Offices, and the only way to do this is to break them up and create new employee atmospheres. Fewer offices means the best people will be noticed and rise to the top and the worst ones will be identified and eliminated.
Where will these new offices be. The St. Petersburg Regional Office is already a super center for the state of Florida. But don't count on it being a VA decision making center. While not the total disaster that Houston, Oakland, and Los Angeles are, is not a model of efficiency either, so don't expect that office to remain open for decision making. VA will likely move these central decision making offices to places that have a track record of reform and efficiency, so expect to see Newman Georgia EIC as the southern center; all of St. Pete's decision makers will head there, along with the old south southern states. Sacramento will replace the current California Regional Offices as well as taking over the cases of mega disaster Phoenix Regioal Office as decision making HQ. Janesville will take over for Chicago, St. Paul, and the upper Midwest.
The mystery is where VA will put the Northwest, the Central West, and the Northeast decision making super centers. The VA can't wait to close Newark, Boston, Buffalo, Baltimore and New York City, all perpetual problem offices with terrible office cultures. But where will the Regional northwest Regional Office be? My guess is Philadelphia, though out in the suburbs and not at the existing office. Denver is the most likely place for the Central West processing; VA knows that Reno, Albuquerque and Boise are terrible and will want those people gone and supervised by the people from the highly efficient Denver office.
The one exception for using existing Regional Offices will be Texas. Waco has shown the most reform over the years and they may be rewarded for it. However, Waco will have a tough time attracting employees and the Houston facility is huge and would be able to handle not only Texas cases, but New Orleans, Little Rock and Muskogee. Hopefully, the Waco supervisors will replace the Houston ones and a mix of new people will be brought in.