Sunday, October 21, 2001

by Jack Dragoni

On Oct. 3, 2001, VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi formally accepted the final report from the Task Force on Claims processing, which was charged, in April, with identifying the problems causing a severe backlog in veterans' disability claims. In his remarks, the secretary stated that the problem in the Veterans Benefit Administration, the portion of the VA responsible for processing claims, is with the processes and not the people.

I have read the 98-page report and would like to commend the task force for a thorough job in examining and identifying problem areas. Its recommendations are specific and reflect a realistic appraisal of the current situation. The secretary's creation of this task force was a positive action taken to correct and improve an inefficient government agency.

I respectfully disagree with the secretary about the problem being the process and not the people. While the personnel within the VBA are overworked and the claims process is flawed, the blame for the situation can clearly be laid at the feet of regional center managers and their superiors in Washington.

The report identifies specific programs, which were initiated by VA and never fully implemented at the regional office level. The report also mentions incidents of instructions from the present secretary, which have simply not been implemented at the regional office level.

We could credit those managers with showing initiative if their failure to implement programs had improved the claims backlog. In fact, the situation got worse, and no one, until now, has been held accountable.

For years, federal courts and the Congress have told the VA to clean up its act and do what is required. Secretary Principi has, to his credit, shown that he intends for improvements to be made. The employees of the VA have shown the perseverance to work, even without effective local management. The problem lies between the secretary and the workers in the agency. It is time to get rid of managers who are impeding the processing of legitimate claims for those veterans who are suffering.

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