Despite many obstacles, including a global pandemic, VBA continues to serve Veterans. This week’s completion of its one-millionth claim is the second fastest rate within a fiscal year that it has completed that many claims, with only last year’s date of May 26 coming sooner in a fiscal year.
This achievement was a result of overcoming supply chain challenges plus targeted funding by the American Rescue Plan to help with faster records scanning.
Overcoming the two biggest hurdles
The two main hurdles to processing claims during the pandemic were due to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) being unable to provide federal records, and Veterans being unable to attend their VA compensation and pension medical exams.
VA and NARA collaborated to resolve a high inventory of federal records requests
VA engaged NARA for solutions to reduce the inventory of records requests. Two personnel actions made the biggest difference. First, VA employees have been temporarily assigned to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) to support records retrieval. These records were then shipped to an offsite scanning team to upload the records into Veterans’ claims files, allowing claims processing to continue.
Second, available shift work was expanded to include opportunities to work on weekends. These strategic moves reduced the inventory of VA requests for claims processing purposes by 90 percent. While previous delays in receiving military personnel records caused setbacks, the records are now received and incorporated into claims files within three to four days.
Medical Disability Examination Office (MDEO) expanded options at a critical time
Due to pandemic safety procedures and protocols, the Medical Disability Examination Office (MDEO) allowed many Veterans the opportunity to complete their examinations through broader use of the virtual Tele-Compensation & Pension examinations and Acceptable Clinical Evidence (ACE) examination procedures.
In May 2020, VA resumed in-person disability compensation and pension (C&P) medical exams performed by VA contractors. Also, as of April 1, 2021, all locations resumed in-person examinations in all 50 states and in 33 overseas locations.
On May 20, 2021, Medical Disability Examination (MDE) vendors completed the one millionth C&P examination. On June 3, 2021, MDE vendors surpassed the total number of C&P examinations completed during Fiscal Year 2020. As of June 6, 2021, MDE vendors have completed a total of 1,074,777 examinations this fiscal year in support of VA.
American Rescue Plan (ARP) offered relief
ARP was signed into law on March 11 by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. The plan allows VA to target the backlog of disability compensation claims caused by the COVID-19 pandemic with funding of $262 million.
By utilizing the overtime funds for claims processors, the goal is to reduce the number of claims pending 125 days or more to 100,000 by October 1, 2022. The use of overtime will support managing the volume of incoming examination results, which is oftentimes the last piece of evidence needed to make a final decision on a claim.
In addition to the ARP funds, Congress has authorized an additional $150 million to accelerate record-scanning; VA is seeking additional funding for this project to further reduce or eliminate any delays caused by third-party requests for federal records to support claims processing.
Information on the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) can be found here.
Information on resumption of C&P exams can be found here.
Information on the American Rescue Plan can be found here.
Angela Childers-Conner is a marketing and communications specialist with VBA’s Office of Strategic Engagement.