Late Breaking News
GAO: Veterans Not Given Enough Information to Appeal Benefits Denials Cont.
The number of dissatisfied veterans taking their appeals to the national level after being turned down at the regional is the same for both methods — approximately 25%.
Poorly Understood Program
Part of the problem might lie in VA’s ability to define the role of DROs and to use them properly. According to GAO, since the DRO pilot program in 1997, the department has expanded their duties to include many tasks not related to appeals, including training staff and performing quality reviews.
In a survey of VA regional offices, GAO found that the time spent on actually reviewing appeals varied heavily — from 3% of a DRO’s workday to 70%. Also, DROs reported spending as much as 40% of their time training new employees.
In 2006, an internal VA study group assessed the impact of the DRO review process and recommended VA limit the scope of DRO duties to reviewing appeals. It also recommended they perform de novo reviews of all appeals, not only those for which a DRO review was selected. The study group noted that if DROs spent all of their time on appeals and not on other duties, then there would be enough DROs to actually accomplish this.
VA management did not implement these recommendations, stating that they believed there was an insufficient number of DROs to review all appeals and that training and quality review tasks also were important.
No nationwide training curriculum is in place for DROs, who receive the same training offered to staff who evaluate initial claims. According to GAO, VA leaders haves not created a separate curriculum because they believe DROs already should be knowledgeable in review processes before they are promoted. However, these same officials also admitted they have not completed an analysis of DRO tasks specifically to determine the training needed for the position.