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Obama Targets Backlog Of Veterans' Claims

By Ed O'Keefe

The Obama administration is calling once again on federal employees to submit ideas on improving government services. This time, it is targeting the amount of time and effort it takes to process veterans' disability benefits.

The number of unresolved disability claims has soared this year, prompting protests from veterans groups and members of Congress. The American Legion suggested in late June that the number was approaching 1 million claims, but officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs dispute that figure.

Under the plans announced Monday by President Obama, rank-and-file employees with the VA's Veterans Benefits Administration will be asked to suggest, through a Web-based computer program, how to reduce the department's backlog. The VBA has about 18,400 employees, most of whom work at its 57 regional offices nationwide.

Top department officials will work with Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients and Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra to pick the best suggestions and implement them by year's end.

The goal is "cut those backlogs, slash those wait times and deliver your benefits sooner," Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars at their national convention in Phoenix.

This is the second time Obama has called on Kundra, Zients and Chopra to quickly tackle a challenge. In June he gave them just 90 days to work with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on launching a new Web site that would provide immigration applicants updates on their status via text messages or e-mail. The site will launch in the coming weeks.

Chopra suggested Monday in an interview that working on such issues as immigration and veterans' services in a quick fashion helps the White House meet long-term policy goals.

"It makes coming to work very exciting when you can combine the broader policy debates around budgets and legislation and executive orders with tangible, operational, on-the-ground change," he said.

The plan Obama announced Monday is separate from an April request that all rank-and-file federal employees submit cost-saving ideas that could be incorporated into the federal budget. Details on that program are expected next month.

During his speech in Phoenix, Obama also noted that his proposed 2010 budget includes a 15 percent increase in VA funding, the largest such boost in more than 30 years.

"America's commitments to its veterans are not just lines in a budget. They are bonds that are sacrosanct, a sacred trust we are honor bound to uphold. And we will," he said.

By Ed O'Keefe  | August 17, 2009; 8:43 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Workplace Issues  
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Why has Obama not increased funding for the Social Security Administration to address the backlog of Social Security disability claims? Social security disability claims probably have a back log of 1 million claims also, about the same backlog as VA disability claims.

Posted by: pjmartone | August 18, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

This is good news. Can this be where the federal employee preference (for military spouses) comes in? No one better to look out for the vets than their own. If Aneesh Chopra does this correctly, a military spouse can manage and process claims remotely just like any managed care system does.

Strange, but I didn't think that either project was really worth publicising. Just launch them and let's see what happens.

Posted by: txpatriot1 | August 18, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

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