Review of Timeliness of the Appeals Process

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03/27/2018 08:00 PM EDT

The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted this review to determine whether opportunities continued to exist for Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) staff to improve the timeliness of appeals processing. The review focused on 210 appeals in seven phases where VBA was required to take action after receipt of a notice of disagreement, substantive appeal, or decision from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board). The OIG found VBA staff did not always timely process the appeals workload. Generally, periods of inactivity occurred because: (1) VBA senior leadership prioritized the rating claims backlog over other workload and did not dedicate sufficient resources to timely address appeals; (2) VBA had an ineffective procedure for notifying VA Regional Offices when they were required to process Board grants; (3) some appeals were prematurely closed because VBA staff failed to update, or incorrectly updated, the electronic system and relied on an automated function to close some appeals; and, (4) VBA staff failed to follow the Board’s remand instructions due to inattention to detail and ineffective oversight. In some cases, delays caused by VBA resulted in appellants waiting years to receive favorable decisions and compensation. The OIG estimated that VBA staff issued favorable decisions in 29 percent of appeal stages completed during the first quarter of fiscal year 2016, resulting in additional compensation averaging approximately $32,800 through January 2016 and $650 in recurring additional monthly payments as of February 2016. Delaying decisions also resulted in some appellants paying more of their benefits to accredited attorneys and agents, and some appellants died before receiving final decisions on their appeals. Furthermore, processing errors resulted in loss of control of some appeals, misrepresented VA’s reported statistics, and caused unnecessary delays. The OIG made four recommendations and the Executive in Charge concurred with each one.