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Veterans' Disability Benefits: Expanded Oversight Would Improve Training for Experienced Claims Processors.

GAO-10-445 April 30, 2010

The Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-389) mandated that GAO evaluate the Department of Veterans Affairs VA training for disability claims processors. This report answers the following two questions: (1) How appropriate is the training provided to experienced disability claims processors? (2) How adequate is the Veterans Benefits Administration's (VBA) monitoring and assessment of this training? To address these questions, GAO conducted a web-based survey of a nationally representative sample of claims processors, interviewed VBA headquarters and regional office officials, and reviewed VBA training material, relevant federal statutes, regulations, and court cases.

VBA'sannual training requirements and the training received by experienced staff--those with more than two years experience--may not be appropriate, based on the results of GAO's survey of claims processors nationwide. Experienced claims processors had problems with five key areas: the number of hours of training required, the amount of training received on particular topics, the usefulness of some subject matter, the way training is delivered and the timing of training. GAO's survey results indicated that more than half (55 percent) of experienced claims processors found it difficult to meet VBA's 80-hour annual training requirement given their workload. In addition, based on its survey, GAO estimates that 45 percent of supervisors of experienced Rating Veterans Service Representatives (RVSR) and 53 percent of supervisors of experienced Veterans Service Representatives (VSR) thought that only some or few, if any, of the experienced staff they supervise need 80 hours of training to perform their job duties effectively. Many experienced staff also thought they received too little training on some topics and too much on others. For example, 42 percent thought they received less training than needed in how to rate claims involving special monthly compensation and 34 percent thought they received more than enough training on records management. Finally, opinions varied on how helpful the various modes of training were. Nearly all claims processors, in general, considered on-the-job experience to be the method of training best suited to their needs. An estimated 42 percent of all experienced claims processors, in general, felt that some of the training they received was delivered too late, suggesting that regional offices may not always deliver the training needed by experienced claims processors in a timely manner. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, federal agencies must have control mechanisms in place to help ensure that all employees receive appropriate and consistent training. Under its recently revised annual training requirements, VBA delegates considerable responsibility for training experienced claims processors to each of its 57 regional offices. In particular, regional offices are responsible for ensuring that claims processors complete annual training requirements. Each office also determines what topics are covered for half of the required training hours, what material to provide on each of these topics, and how and when the training should occur. Regional offices also have considerable discretion in determining what activities qualify as training. However, VBA lacks controls to ensure that regional offices deliver required training and record completed training in a consistent manner, and does little to assess the appropriateness or consistency of the training experienced claims processors receive.

Recommendations

Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

Director: Daniel Bertoni Team: Government Accountability Office: Education, Workforce, and Income Security Phone: (202) 512-5988

Recommendations for Executive Action

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Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Undersecretary for Benefits to ensure that claims processors receive the types of training required by VBA each year, VBA should adopt procedures for routinely monitoring and ensuring compliance with annual training requirements, including more fully using its Learning Management System (LMS) to ensure that claims processors receive required Core Technical Training Requirements (CTTR) and ad hoc training on emerging topics.

Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

Status: In process

Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Undersecretary for Benefits to ensure that regional offices record training activities consistently in the LMS so that LMS data are reliable, VBA should develop clear written guidance on the types of activities all regional offices should and should not count toward completion of annual training requirements.

Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

Status: In process

Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Undersecretary for Benefits to ensure that training is appropriate for experienced claims processors, VBA should develop and implement a written strategy for systematically assessing the content, mode and timing of training experienced claims processors receive in regional offices and make improvements, when indicated. Such a strategy should include a standardized approach for (1) obtaining and analyzing feedback from experienced claims processors on the appropriateness of non-CTTR training provided by regional offices and (2) obtaining input from all regional office managers and training coordinators on the appropriateness of CTTR course content.

Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

Status: In process

Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Categories: April 30, 2010, Claims processing, Compensation claims, Disability benefits, Eligibility determinations, Employees, Evaluation, Internal controls, Monitoring, Pension claims, Requirements definition, Staff utilization, Surveys, Training utilization, Veterans benefits, Veterans disability compensation, Veterans pensions, Veterans\' medical care
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Date:Jun 1, 2010
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