VA nominee pledges progress on claims backlog

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At a nomination hearing before a Senate committee on Tuesday, Sloan Gibson, the Obama Administration's pick to serve as Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, pledged to tackle the VA's backlog problems and joint electronic health record efforts, Federal News Radio reports.

Gibson, currently CEO and president of United Service Organizations (USO), and a former U.S. Army officer, put dealing with the longstanding backlog and struggles to achieve a joint electronic health-records program at the center of his testimony before the committee.

"No one's happy with where things are right now," he said in his testimony, according to FNR. "No one's satisfied. Where we are in terms of timeliness is not acceptable. But I think there's some exceptional work going on right now designed to permanently eradicate the claims backlog. The innovative work to integrate investments in people, process and technology, I think, are exactly the right things to do."

Gibson said his business experience would help him reach bottom lines and "meet expectations of a range of stakeholders." He also plans on talking to staff with claims experience.

"If confirmed, I look forward to going out and talking with veterans who have recent claims experience ... talking with front-line staff who are actually doing the work of processing claims day in and day out," Gibson said.

The backlog currently sits at 400,000, having shrunk by 200,000 in the past eight months. FNR points out that 60 percent of the claims are supplemental.

Gibson also said he envisions a "seamless" transition between U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and VA service members.

Linda Schwartz, nominated by the Obama administration to serve as the assistant VA secretary for policy and planning, said at her nomination hearing that the concept of a seamless EHR on common technological platform shared by DoD and VA is "definitely worth revisiting," according to FNR.

In August, President Obama announced that the VA disability claims backlog was down 20 percent since March. That announcement came just two months after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced that its joint web portal with the Department of Defense--eBenefits--had been installed at all 56 regional offices ahead of schedule; the tool integrates with the internal Veteran Benefits Management System, enabling disability compensation claims to be processed more quickly online.

A few weeks later, however, News21 published an investigative report that found that if the VA goes for quantity over quality while processing the claims, it could lead to mistakes.

To learn more:
- read the Federal News Radio article
- access materials from the hearing

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