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Veterans' Benefits: Quality Assurance for Disability Claims and Appeals Processing Can Be Further Improved.

GAO-02-806 August 16, 2002

For fiscal year 2002, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will pay $25 billion in cash disability benefits to 3.3 million disabled veterans and their families. Veterans who are dissatisfied with VA's 57 regional offices' decisions may file appeals with VA's Board of Veteran's Appeals. In about half of such appeals, the Board has either granted the benefits denied or returned the cases to regional offices for rework. Additionally, VA reported an accuracy rate of less than 70 percent for regional office disability decisions when it tested a new quality assurance program in fiscal year 1998. When the Board itself denies benefits, veterans may appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. In over half of the appeals, the Court has either granted the benefits denied by the Board or returned the decisions to the Board for rework. In fiscal year 1998, the Board of Veteran's Appeals established a quantitative evaluation program to score its decision-making accuracy and collect data to improve decision-making. The accuracy measure used by the Board understates its true accuracy rate because the calculations include certain deficiencies, such as errors in a written decision's format, which would not result in either a reversal or a remand by the Court. VA does not assess the consistency of decision-making across the regional office and Board disability adjudicators, even though VA acknowledges that in many cases adjudicators of equal competence could review the same evidence but render different decisions. Even though available evidence indicates that variations in decision-making occur across all levels of VA adjudication, VA does not conduct systematic assessments to determine the degree of variations that occurs for specific impairments and to provide a basis for determining ways to reduce such variations.
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Publication:General Accounting Office Reports & Testimony
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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