VA Disability Benefits: Compensation program could be strengthened by consistently following leading reform practices

What the GAO found

The GAO identified 23 reforms implemented by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) that were intended to improve its disability compensation program and were ongoing from fiscal years 2017 through 2020.

GAO’s review of five of these reforms found that the VBA did not consistently follow relevant best practices for effective reforms that GAO has identified in previous work, such as setting goals and results-oriented implementation plans, the involvement of key stakeholders and the use of data and evidence to justify reform.

Extent to which five randomly selected VBA efforts to reform the Disability Compensation Program followed relevant leading reform practices

Reform practices:

Duty to Care Initiative

Eliminate the 48-hour VSO exam period

Develop an exam management system

Predictive models of initial claims

Military teams specializing in sexual trauma

Establish goals and results

Involve key stakeholders and employees

Use data and evidence

Overcome high-risk, long-standing challenges

N / A

Leadership focus and attention

Management and monitoring

Employee performance management

N / A

N / A

Legend: ● Generally followed ◐ Partially followed ○ Not followed N / A = Not applicable

VSO = Veterans Service Organization

Source: GAO analysis of Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) documentation and interviews. | GAO-22-104488

The GAO found that the VBA managed its reforms on a project-by-project basis. VBA officials told the GAO that they are not managing the reforms as a whole because they are dealing with various issues that have arisen over time. As a result, VBA had not compiled or tracked reforms or had a method for prioritizing or overseeing these efforts. Going forward, as VBA continues to plan and implement reforms, appointing a centralized leadership team can help VBA track, prioritize, and oversee ongoing and new reforms to improve the program. compensation for people with disabilities. Furthermore, VBA may be better placed to effectively implement such reforms by developing a policy that comprehensively outlines the best practices its managers should follow when undertaking such efforts.

Why GAO Did This Study

In fiscal year 2021, VBA provided more than $112 billion in disability awards to approximately 5.6 million veterans and their families. Over the past decade, VBA has taken steps to improve its disability compensation program. Previous GAO work has shown that the effectiveness of agency reforms depends on adhering to best practices, such as setting results-based objectives. The GAO was asked to review the VBA’s implementation of reforms to improve its disability compensation program.

This report identifies the reforms that the VBA has undertaken, examines the extent to which five selected VBA reforms have followed leading reform practices, and examines how the VBA has handled the overall reforms.

GAO reviewed relevant documents, interviewed VA officials, and randomly selected five reforms based on criteria such as the number of VA offices involved and milestones reached. The GAO benchmarked the agency’s efforts against relevant best practices for effective agency reforms and project portfolio management, and against federal standards of internal control.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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