VA Deputy Secretary Gould Testifies
On September 20, 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provided the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) an extensive briefing, including a long laundry list of success stories plus another list of unsolved problems. Leading the hearing was HVAC Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL). Bergmann & Moore staff attend Congressional hearings and provide our readers with summaries of important developments.
According to Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould, who testified before HVAC on behalf of the agency, VA now provides services to more than nine million veterans out of 22 million living veterans. With a staff of 320,000 workers and a budget of $140 billion per year, VA continues expanding to meet the challenges of an aging Vietnam War veteran population as well as a surge in growth among Gulf War, Afghanistan War, and Iraq War veterans.
VA’s Success Stories
Topping VA’s success list is the Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits program. Enacted in 2008, VA invested $21 billion in more than 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. A fact overlooked by the press in the housing bubble meltdown in 2008 is the fact, “VA has helped over 119,000, or 82.5 percent of, defaulted VA borrowers avoid foreclosure,” based on Gould’s written statement to the Committee.
Another success is VA’s suicide prevention hotline, which “rescued over 23,000 [veterans] from potential suicide,” Gould said. VA reports that in “2009, the suicide rate among individuals with mental health or substance abuse was 56.4 per 100,000, as compared to 23.5 among [VA] patients with these disorders,” he added. VA’s research reveals that veterans provided treatment by VA are half as likely to commit suicide than those who do not.
VA’s Remaining Challenges
As usual, VA’s claim crisis leads the list of VA’s unresolved challenges. In 2008, less than 900,000 veterans filed disability claims. However, in 2011, claims filed rose to 1.3 million. VA hopes to process 1.2 million claims in 2012. VA’s challenge arises from new science-based regulations for diabetes associated with Agent Orange poisoning as well as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associated with deployment to a war zone. Specifically, VA’s Gould told Congress that from 2008 to 2012, the number of veterans compensated for PTSD rose sharply, up 64 percent. In addition, more than 700,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans filed claims against VA.
Gould thanked Congress for supporting technology upgrades to address the 900,000 pending disability claims. The number two leader at VA confirmed that the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), a cluster of reforms at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) intended to improve the speed and accuracy of claims processing, remains in pilot stage at four VBA offices. More than 67 percent of claims now wait more than 125 days, with an error rate of 30 percent. VA has a long way to go to reach VA’s goals of no claims pending more than 125 days and a two percent error rate by 2015.
Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is based in the Washington, DC metro area, concentrates only on VA disability benefits law. We have helped thousands of Veterans and their families obtain the VA benefits they are entitled to receive. Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning VA disability claims. We gladly welcome all types of claims, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), individual unemployability (IU), and appeals.