Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Michigan) recently asked the Government Accountability Office (“GAO” - the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of Congress) to investigate whether the health of disabled veterans is improving with VA care.
In January 2020, GAO published its findings, stating that “more than half of the veterans receiving disability compensation used VA health care for their conditions. However, VA does not have a clear picture of whether these services improve veterans’ health.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs receives billions of taxpayer dollars every year to provide care to veterans with service-connected conditions. To assess the quality and impact of that care, GAO focused on “the extent to which:
- “veterans used VA health care services to treat service-connected conditions, and what is known about their health outcomes
- “VA uses information on reevaluations to help manage the program
- “VA's procedures position it to determine when to conduct a reevaluation”
After conducting a review of VA health care data from 2013 through 2018, analyzing all the relevant laws and guidelines, and interviewing VA staff in various offices, GAO concluded that VA’s own assessment of the health benefits of its care for disabled veterans is insufficient and that VA is yet to “understand the characteristics, needs, and health outcomes of veterans with service-connected conditions.”
Of all the disability rating reevaluations analyzed by the GAO, only four percent showed any changes, with 95 percent of veterans receiving the exact same rating as before receiving VA care. In many cases, unnecessary reevaluations were carried out.
“VA recently updated its procedures manual to specify which staff may determine whether a veteran's condition should be reevaluated,” GAO said, “but has not clearly defined skill sets and training needed to consistently implement these procedures.” The report further states that staff may not be sufficiently trained “to determine when to conduct reevaluations.” GAO concluded that unless VA improves training and procedures, it is at risk of carrying out unnecessary reevaluations on a regular basis and “burdening veterans.”
GAO made several recommendations to the VA, including:
- “develop and implement a periodic analysis of program management data for trends in the individual service-connected conditions being reevaluated as well as data on the outcomes of reevaluations.
- “implement the two recommendations in VBA's May 2018 consistency study to provide training on how to determine when a reevaluation is needed and review reevaluation decisions for accuracy at the lowest-scoring offices and take corrective action as needed.
- “clarify guidance in its procedures manual regarding the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to make decisions on whether to reevaluate veterans for changes in their service-connected conditions.
- “align training requirements with the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for reviewing claims to decide whether to conduct a reevaluation.”
The report concluded that “VA has not yet established a plan for addressing the identified research challenges. Without a plan, VA will not be positioned to understand the characteristics, needs, and health outcomes of veterans with service-connected conditions or how disability compensation and health care work together to help them.”
The VA responded to GAO’s recommendations with plans to improve program management and analyze trends and health outcomes. Still, it also argued that no further action is needed when it comes to reevaluations on account of “its Systematic Technical Accuracy Review (“STAR”) results of 95 percent for reevaluations.”
One can only hope that VA will start taking these problems seriously, as there can be little improvement in care without an adequate assessment of its benefits for veterans’ health.
A retired Marine Corps lieutenant general, Rep. Jack Bergman knows only too well what kind of challenges await veterans with service-connected disabilities as they return home. He has made a significant contribution to veterans’ health by highlighting some of the biggest mistakes the VA may be making.
Because, in the end, what good is a bigger budget for the VA if those funds are not translating into improved health conditions for veterans?
The VA can be a murky institution to navigate and having a skilled attorney can help you get the benefits you deserve. Contact our veterans disability lawyers who can help evaluate your case and plan the best course of action. Contact us today at 888.878.9350 or Use This Online Form.