Campaign Promises

Cabinet/Departments -> Veterans Affairs -> Veterans' Benefits

ItemVeterans Affairs
Veterans' BenefitsGrade
The Promise: "To reduce the Veterans Benefits Administration claims backlog, "Obama will hire additional claims workers and convene our nation's leading veterans groups, employees and managers to develop an updated training and management model..."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Fulfilling a Sacred Trust With Our Veterans" dated 09/09/08.
Status:As of 06/09, the VA had over 720,000 claims pending and over 170,000 appeals pending. A VA Inspector General report dated 09/23/09 lays the blame on claims processing delays on inadequate VA workload management practices, not on inadequate claims processing personnel resources.

The FY2010 Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act signed into law on 10/22/09 included resources to continue moving toward President Obama's goal of reforming the benefits claims process, increasing funds for this purpose from $1.4B in FY2009 to $1.8B in FY2010. This translated into the VA's ability to hire 1,200 new claims processors in FY2010, bringing that workforce to 14,550 personnel.

As of end-CY2010, the number of claims in pending status at the VA grew by 31% since 10/01/10, the start of the fiscal year. This increase was attributed in part to the inclusion of retroactive claims provisions for Vietnam-era service members exposed to Agent Orange, as well as to a 34% increase in the number of claims in pending status for more than 125 days.

For FY2011, Congress approved a Continuing Resolution (H.R. 3082) on 12/21/10 that provides an additional $460M to the VA Department to avoid laying off people hired to address the claims backlog while the 112th Congress negotiated the FY2011 Defense and VA budgets.

Despite the above positive actions, the number of claims pending action went from 448,000 in 04/10 to 756,000 in 04/11. Claims exceeding 125 days processing time went up from 200,000 in 04/10 to 450,000 in 04/11, with processing time estimated at 180 days and expected to surpass 240 days before end-CY2011.

The objective of this promise was to reduce the VA claims backlog by hiring additional claims processors. While additional workers were added to the VA payroll, the backlog was not reduced -- it worsened. To mitigate this situation, the President's FY2012 budget proposal included $2.019B (a 19.5% increase over FY2010) to improve the processing of an estimated 1.27M claims through increased staff and improvements in the VA's business processes and information technology. The FY2012 budget proposal also included $148M for the implementation of a paperless claims processing system by end-CY2012. This new system should have reduced the claims processing time to less than 125 days for all veterans.

Despite processing over 1M claims in CY2010 and CY2011, the number of claims in progress at end-CY2012 was estimated to be 897,566, 67.6% or 606,754 of which were over 125 days old.

The backlog of claims peaked in 03/13 with 611,000 stuck in processing for over 125 days. A year later, that number had gone down to 344,000, an indicator that processing improvements are taking hold.

The claims processing system is projected to become increasingly strained by end-CY2014 as veterans from Afghanistan separate from active service, many of whom have multiple medical conditions. The claims backlog is further exacerbated by the aging of Vietnam-era veterans who are filing for medical benefits and previously unavailable benefits related to Agent Orange exposure. To mitigate this situation, President Obama requested $2.5 billion, an increase of $28 million over FY2014, in his FY2015 budget request for veteran benefits processing.

With the hiring of additional claims processors coupled with mandatory overtime, the veterans claims backlog was significantly reduced as of mid-CY2015. On 06/30/15, the number of initial claims waiting in excess of 125 days for processing was estimated at 194,000. By 12/31/16, that number reportedly went down to 70,000. However, the backlog of claim appeals as of end-CY2016 stood at 470,000.

It took a while and if the VA's numbers are credible, promise fulfillment has been attained to "reduce" the initial claims backlog.
The Promise: "Obama will sign an executive order "ending the unfair ban on healthcare enrollment of certain groups of veterans, including 'Priority 8' veterans who often earn modest incomes."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Fulfilling a Sacred Trust With Our Veterans" dated 09/09/08.
Status:Priority 8 veterans are those who either have no service-connected disability or a 0% disability rating, with incomes above specified thresholds based on family size. For the VA's Financial Test Year 2010, income thresholds for eligibility for free VA health care are $29,402 for a veteran with no dependents to $41,344 for a veteran with 4 dependents (amount increased by $2,020 for each additional dependent).

Under President Bush, Congress authorized the expenditure of $375M to re-enroll some Priority 8 veterans, about 10% of the total number of eligible veterans.

When President Obama signed the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act on 10/22/09, he acknowledged that "for 500,000 Priority 8 veterans, we're restoring VA health care coverage". According to the VA, that number was closer to 265,000 at that time.

Although this promise was for President Obama to sign an executive order on this matter, which he failed to do, by signing the above Act, he essentially delivered on this promise.

This promise has been fulfilled.
The Promise: "As president, Obama will meet early in the budgeting process each year with congressional leaders and the nation's leading Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) to ensure the VA budget is always given must-pass status."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Fulfilling a Sacred Trust With Our Veterans" dated 09/09/08.
Status:The House passed H.R. 1016, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009, on 10/08/09 by a vote of 419-1. The measure was then approved by the Senate on 10/13/09. President Obama signed this legislation into law on 10/22/09.

Starting in FY2011, the above Act requires the President to submit a budget request for the VA's medical-care accounts for the fiscal year after the one for which the budget is submitted.

The legislation also requires the VA to provide an annual report to Congress by 07/31 of each year, projecting cost estimates in advance of the current year's budget requirements.

This promise has been fulfilled.
The Promise: "Obama will transform the paper benefit claims process to an electronic system that will be interoperable with the VA's health network as well as military records"
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Fulfilling a Sacred Trust With Our Veterans" date 09/09/08
Status:Cross Reference to Promise Number VA-6.

The VA's 2010 budget included $3.3B to develop electronic health care records, paperless claims systems, and seamless integration of medical and service records with DoD. This level of funding was considered sufficient to get the promised transformation started and implemented.

For FY2011, the actual budget authorization for VA Information Technology (IT) was $2.994B.

Part of the President's FY2012 request for $2.019B for claims processing was for information technology enhancements. Further, of the enacted $3.161B for the VA's FY2012 discretionary funding for information technology, $70M was for the development and implementation of a Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) initiative and $148M for a paperless claims processing system.

For FY2013, the President's request for VA IT is $3.327B, $128M of which is specifically for the continued development and implementation of a paperless claims system under the Veterans Benefits Management System.

This promise has been fulfilled.
The Promise: "...would also extend the window for new veterans to enroll in the VA from two to five years."
When/Where: Obama Plan: "Fulfilling a Sacred Trust With Our Veterans", Kansas City, 08/20/07.
Status:H.R. 1460 was introduced by Congressman William Owens (D-NY) on 04/08/11 to provide for automatic enrollment of veterans returning from combat zones into the VA medical system. This bill and others like it such as the "Providing Real Outreach (PRO) for Veterans Act" (S. 1080) have not gotten beyond initial committee review as of mid-CY2012.

The above bills would grant veterans returning from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) or already returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) immediate enrollment in the VA if the terms of their discharge permit.

However, not all service members got to serve in Iraq or are expected to serve in Afghanistan before the USA pulls out of that country by end-CY2014. These veterans are assigned to a lower priority group for receipt of VA health care benefits, with those able to afford their own health care placed at the lowest end of the priority scale.

The interpretation of this promise is that all "new veterans" would be granted a 5-year window to enroll for VA benefits, not only those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, those who enrolled prior to the expiration of the enhanced enrollment window on 01/27/11, or those who have service connected disabilities or low incomes.

This promise has not been fulfilled.