A March 23 House committee hearing addressed a critical VA exam backlog preventing hundreds of thousands of veterans from receiving earned benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Almost 350,000 veterans are awaiting their compensation and pension (C&P) exams, a figure that’s more than tripled since early 2020. These exams are a critical step in the VA disability claims process, determining a veteran’s eligibility for access to VA health care, disability benefits, and other VA services. The exams were paused VA-wide in April 2020 because of the pandemic and restarted late the next month at some locations.
VA representatives and advocates from veterans service organizations (VSOs) addressed the backlog during the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs hearing, led by Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), the subcommittee’s chair, and its ranking member, Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas).
MOAA was heartened to hear the subcommittee’s bipartisan concerns and calls for action to address the backlog and other issues of oversight. Key areas identified by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the VA’s Office of the Inspector General (VA OIG) included:
- The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) lacks a long-term strategy to eliminate the C&P exam backlog in a timely fashion.
- GAO recommendations on the oversight of contracted examiners have yet to be fully implemented by VBA. Concerns remain that data from the oversight process still cannot be fully used to analyze the operations of the program.
- OIG and GAO concur that VBA lacks and should develop a detailed, written plan to address the backlog, the quality of contracted examiners, and ensure there is uniform guidance across all levels of VBA and VHA.
MOAA shares the concerns identified by GAO and VA OIG: Without a well-defined strategy to address these issues, thousands of veterans will continue to go without access to critical benefits.
The Path Forward
During a March 25 HVAC hearing, VA Secretary Denis McDonough outlined four guiding principles for his vision of the future of the department. You can learn more about his approach and other plans for the VA at this link.
McDonough is committed to improving VA’s outreach and engagement with veterans, their caregivers, their families, and survivors. More work is required to address the backlog and the quality of contracted C&P exams, but the secretary has been hard at work, in his first 45 days, to address all areas of veteran health care and benefits.
MOAA will continue to engage with VA, Secretary McDonough, Congress, and our VSO partners to improve the quality of, and timely access to, VA health care and benefits. The growing backlog of C&P exams must be addressed by the VA, the training of VBA-contracted examiners must improve, and GAO and VA OIG recommendations for these areas must be fully implemented.