VA Official Minimizes Claims Problems

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Cases in which local officials do not bother to collect service medical records before denying a claim are included in the Veterans Administration’s estimate that claims are processed in around 180 days, a government official said today in the Veterans for Common Sense v Veterans Administration federal class action trial.

     Michael Walcoff, Under Secretary for Benefits for the Department of Veterans Affairs, downplayed the importance of prematurely denied claims being counted in the estimates, and said he does not give much credence to earlier testimony by Ronald Abrams, Joint Director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, that prematurely denied claims are a major problem in the VA’s processing system.
     Lead plaintiffs’ attorney Gordon Espamer asked Walcoff if averaging in such claims could skew the 180-day estimate, which department officials have used in annual budget reports and in testifying before Congress.
     Walcoff replied, “I could probably make up a dozen scenarios that could skew it one way or the other, but whether that has anything to do with reality is another issue.”
     Walcoff also downplayed the opinions of regional claims raters about problems in the adjudication process.
     In a report from the Center for Naval Analyses, 70 percent of claims raters reported that they had “insufficient time to rate or otherwise decide a claim,” and that there was “too much emphasis on speed relative to accuracy.”
     Walcoff responded, “It’s unfortunate if this is what their perception is, but the facts do not support it.”
     Testimony is expected continue through Wednesday. The class action, filed in July 2007 by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, claims the VA has failed to meet “our nation’s legal and moral obligations to honor and care for our wounded veterans who have served our country.”
     Plaintiffs cite a backlog of more than 600,000 claims, requiring some veterans to wait up to 10 years for a claim to be fully decided.
     Morrison & Foerster is representing the plaintiffs pro bono in this bench trial being heard before Judge Samuel Conti.
     Here are links to previous trial transcripts:
     April 21
     April 22
     April 23
     April 24

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