Cumberland Times-News

September 17, 2013

Fed up

Mikulski: VA needs an ‘attitude adjustment’

Cumberland Times-News

— The Baltimore Regional Office of the Veterans Affairs Department has a woeful track record in processing veterans’ claims for benefits. Maybe the get-tough approach being taken by one of Maryland’s U.S. senators will finally get the problem fixed.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee — the panel that oversees funding for the federal government — has given the VA 10 days to come up with a plan for an “attitude adjustment” at the Baltimore office. She contends some employees in the office seem more interested in disqualifying than approving benefits claims.

There is a lot at stake for Maryland. The Baltimore office serves 484,013 veterans living in the state and its jurisdiction includes all counties in the state.

In a letter sent to the VA on Monday, Mikulski said she is “deeply disappointed and frustrated” by the regional office and wants an “action plan” within 10 days to improve its “lackluster” performance.

Compared to other VA regional offices, the Baltimore unit has a terrible track record. Nationwide, the VA’s weekly workload reports show veterans compensation claims are taking an average of 198 days to process.

 At the Baltimore office, the average is 277 days. Only in the Washington regional office, which averages a processing time of 337 days, is the process slower.

Verna Jones, director of the American Legion’s veterans affairs and rehabilitation division, said at a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing the Baltimore office is lagging because employees do not appear to accept and embrace the so-called “fully developed claims” program that is intended to speed up case decisions.

The Baltimore office, she said, “is not one of the higher performance offices within VA. Systemic problems within the office, including poor file management and high employee turnover, contribute to morale issues and poor performance.”

In Washington’s bureaucracy, nothing is ever a sure thing. But Mikulski’s decision to give the VA a 10-day window to come up with a remedial plan may finally shake up Veterans Affairs leaders.

It will be interesting to see the VA’s forthcoming response.