In 2012, one of the few joys to be found in the VA's appearance before the House Veterans Affairs Committee was Bob Filner. Over and over, the VA would show up (as they did in the Senate) with yet another lie, with yet another figure that made no sense. And US House Rep Bob Filner, who had no patience with the Dept's constant lies, would let it rip. He'd call out the nonsense and, as the inept Allison Hickey, the VA's Under Secretary for Benefits, can certainly attest, he'd make them tremble for every moment they appeared before the Committee. Hickey was among the many who stammered and stuttered and fretted and, yes, almost dissolved into tears under Filner's questioning. Bob's left Congress to become the Mayor of San Diego. And the VA? It's just gotten worse. This week, Aaron Glantz (Center for Investigative Reporting) reports:
The Department of Veterans Affairs has systematically missed nearly
all of its internal benchmarks for reducing a hulking backlog of
benefits claims and has quietly backed away from repeated promises to
give all veterans and family members speedier decisions by 2015.
Internal VA documents, obtained by the Center for Investigative
Reporting, show the agency processed 260,000 fewer claims than it
thought it would during the past year and a half – falling 130,000 short
in the 2012 fiscal year and another 130,000 short of its goal between
October and March.
The result: At a time when the number of veterans facing long waits was supposed to be going down, it instead went up.
On April 29, the VA began to qualify its promise, made repeatedly
since 2009, that “all claims” would be processed within four months by
The numbers prove the VA has yet again deceived.
Grasp that. And let's drop back to the April 18th snapshot for this exchange during the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on April 15th:
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Madam Secretary, the VA backlog
reduction plan shows that in order to eliminate the backlog by 2015, VA
will need to decide 1.2 million claims this year, 1.6 million claims
next year, 1.9 million claims in 2015. But VA's projecting in the
budget submission that it will decide 335,000 fewer claims in 2013 and
2014. So can the VA reach 2 million claims in 2015? That would be a
92% increase in productivity over the 2012 level.
Allison Hickey: So Senator Burr, I'm sorry, I don't exactly know
your numbers but I'm happy to take your numbers and go look at them and
come back to you and sit down and visit with you. But I can tell you --
Ranking Member Richard Burr: -- I'm pulling them right out of the
Budget Reduction Plan which was submitted in January. I got it January
25th in my office and the math would work out to eliminate the backlog
in 2015, VA would need to decide 1.2 million claims this year, 1.6
million claims next year, and 1.9 million claims in 2015. Now in the
projections from the budget submission by the President, that says that
over the next two years you will decide 335,000 less claims then what
the backlog reduction plan said. I'm trying to figure out, if 2015,
you're certain on that, then that means that you have to process over 2
million claims in 2015. Is that - is that how your math looks at it.
Allison Hickey: Uh-uh, Sen-Senator Burr, I would love to come sit
down and talk to you about that. Those numbers are a little different
to me than the numbers that we sent across. And follow up in questions
with your staff, I'm happy to do that with you.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Well in the budget submission, you do
say that you will decide 335,000 fewer claims in 2013 and 2014, right?
Allison Hickey: Uh, uh, Senator, the uh-uh, budget submission --
[At that point the VA's Robert Petzel dropped his head and began
rubbing his bald scalp in what appeared to be frustration or
Allison Hickey: -- is slightly different than the plan that you
received in January that was based on some assumptions made last fall.
Uhm, and there has been some differences in terms of what we have seen
in the actuals that have been submitted to us. We've seen a significant
drop -- well, not significant -- Uh, uh. That's not a good word.
We've seen a drop in the number of claims that have been submitted to us
of late so we have adjusted the budget based on those issues.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Okay. Currently, nearly 70% of the
claims have been backlogged meaning that they've been waiting for a
decision for more than 125 days. The strategic plan that you submitted
less than three months ago predicted that the backlog plan would be
reduced to 68% in 2013 and 57% in 2014. But according to the budget
submission, you now expect no more than 40% of the claims to be
backlogged during either of these two years. So in revising these
projections, what metrics did you look at and what did they -- how did
-- what did they show you?
Allison Hickey: Sena-Senator, I looked at the, uh, actual submission
of receipt claims that we have received from our veterans over the last
five months and each month they have been lower than our expected
Ranking Member Richard Burr: So the math works out to where you would have only a 40% backlog situation in five months?
Allison Hickey: Uh, no, Senator. And I don't think -- You all would
throw me out of here if I said that would happen. Uh, uh, it's not
where we are. We are, uh, uh, about at 69% of, uh, our claims right now
that are older than 125 days. We're working every single day to drive
that number south. We're doing it by focus on our people process
technology solutions and as far as we can pushing up our productivity by
our folks. I can tell you today that my raters are 17% more effective
and a higher productivity than they were prior to us moving into this
transition plan --
Ranking Member Richard Burr: General Hickey, last year you
testified, or, excuse me, the Secretary testified, that during 2013, the
backlog would be reduced from 60% to 40% and that would -- and I quote
-- "demonstrate that we are on the right path." At the time, did you
anticipate that the backlog would stay above 65% for the first half of
the Fiscal Year or that it would be 70% in April?
Allison Hickey: So-so, Senator, we do have, uh, uhm, uh, some APG
guidance in our annual guidance planning that we communicate with to our
federal government partners and, uh, the -- they are usually
aspirational in nature. When we see a change or a difference, as the
Secretary has pointed out in terms of the workload increase that we saw
due to Agent Orange, the increased claims associated with PTSD and the
like, we did note that we would probably not be able to meet that 40%
APG guidance but the thought was you leave your stretch goal out there
so that you keep working hard to get to it.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Well, here would be a simple question.
Is the strategic plan that you sent to Congress aspirational?
Allison Hickey: So, uh, Senator Burr, I grew up as a strategic
planner for, uh, in the military for quite a while and I know that every
strategic plan I've built over the years for the United States Air
Force a plan. And plans are always, you know, in-in contact. You know,
they change and, uh, adjust for reality and actuals. So we have and we
will continue to improve upon that plan as it continues.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: But when you developed that plan was it
developed to be aspirational or was it developed to give us an accurate
blue print of how VA perceived the timeline would move on disability
Allison Hickey: Uh, well, uh --
At that point VA Secretary Eric Shinseki jumps in to try to smooth things over. Apparently, that's what he thinks his job is. To smooth over his employees' discomfort. He certainly doesn't think his job is being honest with Congress. He demonstrated that during his first year on the job. October 14, 2009, he appeared before the House Veterans Affairs Committee during the scandal where veterans whose college semesters had started in mid-August or September still weren't getting their checks from the GI Bill -- the tuition, the housing. They were having to take out loans, they were having to ask landlords to be patient, as this scandal continued -- and it did continue, despite Shinseki telling Congress that they were on it and solving it -- some veterans had to push back Christmas until January. Now that's not ideal but grown ups can handle things like that, right? Thing is, when you're talking to reporters -- as many veterans did -- about having to push back Christmas, you're not talking about you and another adult waiting, you're talking about your kids waiting. And it never should have happened.
But October 14, 2009, in the midst of the scandal, Shinseki appears before Congress and declares:
A plan was written, very quickly put together, uh, very short
timelines. I'm looking at the certificates of
eligibility uh being processed on 1 May and enrollments 6 July, checks
having to flow through August. A very compressed time frame. And in
order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh,
putting together the plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and
trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a
number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't
going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have
everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I
consulted an outside consultant, brought in an independent view, same
kind of assessment. 'Unless you do some big things here, this is not
possible.' To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took
it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had
to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not
very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about
May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230
more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools
that were coming together even as certificates were being executed.
Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take.
In the midst of this scandal, Eric Shinseki reveals to Congress that in January 2009, he was told that plan wasn't executable. He then brought someone in to do an assessment and they told him the same thing. Though he knew this in January of 2009, he failed to inform Congress. Not only he did fail to inform them, every VA witness appearing before Congress in the months leading up to the scandal swore that things were on track. They weren't.
Congress was lied to repeatedly. Not unlike with the outrage over the IRS. There was no accountability for this. Eric Shineski and his family had their Christmas on time.
This was not minor. Go visit VA Mortgage Center.com post on the GI Bill and read through the comments and find stories like these:
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