Recently, the VA estimated that approximately 1,500 new hires will be required next year to increase its full-time staff by the amount it deems necessary to reach its goal, by 2021, of deciding “most” disability appeals within one year of being filed. Currently, wait times for resolution of appeals can be as long as five years, and – according to the Associated Press – VA estimates that without the additional funding necessary to increase its full-time staff the average wait time could balloon to eight-and-a-half years.
In 2015, almost 430,000 veterans were waiting at least three years for new decisions on their appeals. Of those 430,000 veterans, 81,000 waited at least five years for a new decision. In its report last month, the Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.) lamented VA’s lack of a coherent vision regarding the balance of fiscal responsibility, staff training and hiring growth.
New Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs David Shulkin has been outspoken about the need to “reform” the VA disability claims process but unclear as to what reforms he is suggesting or supporting. To date, his actions have consisted of exemptions to the federal hiring freeze. However, a hiring surge is necessary and the the VA is asking for one in order to decrease the average wait time to one year.
"These workforce shortages are deeply troubling," Senator Jon Tester, top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told the Associated Press. "It's time we get these folks hired."
“While VA has established a center for excellence in hiring to focus on recruitment and hiring, the agency has not finalized training or telework plans or otherwise mitigated space constraints that it encountered for hiring staff in fiscal year 2017,” the G.A.O. report said. “Without a timely, detailed workforce plan, VA risks delays in hiring and preparing staff to help manage workloads as soon as possible.”
As HealthPayerIntelligence.com reported, the G.A.O. listed five general recommendations that should make reforming the VA appeals process successful and help decrease the average wait time:
“The suggestions include applying sensitivity analyses when projecting staff needs, developing a more timely and detailed workforce plan, and developing a robust plan for monitoring process reform. Other suggestions involve developing a strategy for assessing process reform, and creating a schedule for IT improvements that takes into account plans for potential process reform.”
In a statement supporting the G.A.O.’s report, Secretary Shulkin agreed that three years is far too long for veterans to wait on their appeals of disability decisions, saying “We have made bold changes to remove the bureaucratic red tape that has caused veterans to wait an average of three years before they get a decision.” Last year, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs received approval to implement a surge in hiring but, without a clear commitment from Secretary Shulkin to an increase in available funds for hiring, that surge will not be anywhere near the level the G.A.O. says is necessary to begin seriously decreasing the average wait time for veterans who have appealed disability decisions.
Please do not hesitate to call the office of Attorney Sean Kendall at 877-629-1712 with any questions or concerns.