NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Veterans Disability System: Problems and Solutions

December 13, 2012

Since the turn of the century, the number and complexity of disability claims has far outpaced the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) capacity to process them. More importantly, the VA has misrepresented the causes of the current claims crisis, the reliability of internal accountability measures and the efficacy of attempted solutions, say Pamela Villarreal, a senior fellow, and Kyle Buckley, a research associate, at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • As of 2011, 22.2 million veterans are currently living in the United States.
  • Of these, 38.6 percent are enrolled in the health program.
  • Another 16.6 percent receive cash disability compensation.
  • It takes about 197 days to complete the average disability claim.
  • To put this in perspective, it takes an average of 111 days for the Social Security Administration to process Disability Insurance claims.

More troubling is the fact that the VA has reported backlogs of about 1 million claims annually. The VA argues that the current backlog is the result of several factors such as exposure to new agents, 10 years of war, and the growth in the average number of claims filed per veteran.

To receive disability compensation, a veteran must have a service-related disability and have been discharged in any way other than dishonorably. Of all the initial claims, 31 percent get denied. Surprisingly, 60 percent of denials are the result of errors.

The VA is unable to quickly and accurately diagnose and compensate soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury. This is primarily because the deadlines and meetings that the VA imposes are difficult for people dealing with PTSD to meet. Missed deadlines, confusion and lack of focus are all symptoms of PTSD. According to the Office of the Inspector General, 100 percent of claims relating to PTSD or traumatic brain injuries were consistently mismanaged.

There are several avenues the VA can pursue to become more efficient and responsive to the needs of servicemen and women that receive benefits.

  • Streamline the transition from active duty to veteran.
  • Allow more flexibility for veterans in the VA health care system.
  • Transfer administrative services from the federal to state level.
  • Allow competitive bidding for administrative services by private contractors.

Source: Pam Villarreal and Kyle Buckley, "The Veterans Disability System: Problems and Solutions," National Center for Policy Analysis, December 2012.


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