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tv   House Veterans Affairs Committee Hearing on VA Appeals Process  CSPAN  December 17, 2018 10:02am-11:46am EST

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time when an influx of immigrants was seen by many as a national crisis. wednesday political history with a discussion on populism and its role in the history of american politics. on thursday, co-authors bob drury and tom clavin talk about their book "valley forge" talking about how the army lasted through the winter in 1777 and '78 and friday our american artifacts series. we tour the americans exhibit at the national museum of the american indian in washington, d.c. up next, modernization and reforms at the veterans affairs department, including changes to its appeals process. the va is under congressional mandate to complete reforms and i.t. upgrades by february.
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congressman phil roe chairs the house veterans affairs committee. call the meeting to do. good morning. thank you all for being here today. this is the final hearing we will hold this session on the implementation of the veterans appeals improvement and modernization act of 2017, also called ama. let me start by thanking acting deputy secretary byrne for his being here today. thank you for being here. as you know, the ama requires the secretary to certify in january of 2019 that the department has the resources, personnel and procedures and information technology to carry out the new appeals system while timely addressing both new and legacy appeals. the ama also provides the secretary with the authority to
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delay the effective date of the law if va is not fully prepared to implement appeals reform. since the secretary is responsible for certifying that the department is ready, i believe it's important for congress and the veteran community here from senior leadership on the status of the implementation. i understand that miss mason has been delegated the authority to oversee the implementation, but your presence here today, mr. byrne, demonstrates the secretary's commitment to ensuring this program is implemented correctly. thank you all for being here. today i want to talk about the va's progress, updating its i.t. system, publishing final implementing regulations and forms and completing training for employees and appropriately allocating staff and resources which all must be completed within the next two months. i was encouraged by the recent august and november updates to va's comprehensive plan which shows the steps -- which showed the steps va is taking to
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effectively overhaul the current appeals process. however, i am uncertain that all the components needed for appeals reform will be completed on time. while we are all excited for appeals reform to roll out, it's also important for va to understand that this committee does not wish for va to push out the new appeals system in february if it's not truly ready. that's one lesson we've all learned from the forever gi bill implementation. one of my main concerns is whether the va's i.t. system will be fully functional by february 2019. va needs robust i.t. systems that are capable of handling appeals under the ama. during the july appeals hearing, dr. lawrence testified that about 100% of the i.t. functionality will be delivered by this month. i would like to know if that timeline remains accurate. if va's appeals i.t. will not be ready in time, i want to hear
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what the va's contingency plan is. turning to regulations according to the november 2018 appeals report, va said it planned to send omb the final regulations for approval by november 13th, 2018. i would also like to know whether this has taken place. additionally, i'm looking forward to an update from va about how it intends to effectively balance appeals under the new system and the legacy inventory. right now va has almost 400,000 appeals pending. va anticipated that the rapid appeals modernization program or r.a.m.p., which allows veterans who have pending appeals to transfer to the new system would help reduce the backlog. r.a.m.p. has had only a 16% take rate from the legacy inventory. i'd like to hear today how long it will take va and the board to decide all remaining legacy appeals, whether it will be 1, 5 or 10 years. despite r.a.m.p.'s low opt-in rate, i'm curious about how the
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department has used the feedback to test assumptions and make adjustments to the new appeals system accordingly. i want to make sure va is using r.a.m.p. to inform the new system and not as a means to disguise the true size of an appeals backlog. i'd also like to hear about the training provided to employees. my staff visited the denver regional office in october and the employees shared that va guidance on the new system was confusing and that it needed additional training, they needed additional training to understand the new procedures. i'm hoping to have a productive discussion today to ensure that when the law is fully implemented, all veterans will receive correct and timely decisions. again, i want to thank the witnesses for being here today to discuss this important matter. and just as an aside, i've spoken to several veterans who have opted into the r.a.m.p. program. when they do, the results have been good. i have to say i've been encouraged by that. if it can be -- if it's scaleable, if we have the capacity to do it, and that's
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what we're here to hear from you all today, i think it has a chance to be very successful. i can remember sitting right down there ten years ago and there were a million appeals claims backlog. so even though 400,000 is a lot if you're one veteran out there whose appeal hasn't been looked at, it's 100% for you, there has been improvement and changes have been made. i'd now like to yield to ranking member esty for her opening comments. >> thank you, mr. chairman. and i associate myself with all of his comments, in particular the same issue areas that i think all of us on the committee would like to get your review of, your guidance, your input so that together we can move this forward. i'm happy to welcome everyone here today as we enter the home stretch on the implementation of the appeals modernization act. today is this committee's final check-in with gao, the veterans
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benefits administration before the act is fully implemented on february 14th or thereabouts, as we've already discussed. from what i am reading in the testimony, all systems look to be a go. the secretary is expected to certify in january that the va has the resources, personnel, office space, procedures and information technology required. but before that happens next month, i want to just step back for a moment and highlight the process by which we arrived here because i believe it is a model that for large scale policy making, that other committees -- this committee and other committees should look to duplicate. first and foremost, appeals modernization has been bipartisan from the beginning almost four years ago. second, the statute set in place an innovative system of progress reports from both va and gao at regular intervals as implementation planning was
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playing out. third, full vso participation in all stages is required by the statute. that's unprecedented. and i'm happy to report that having checked with the vsos this week and throughout the process, they have generally been quite well pleased with the feedback they have been given the opportunity to share with va, and it has not only been shared but they are seeing evidence of that being incorporated in the planning process. we want to make sure that that continues and we want to make sure that's reflected in the omb regulations. i strongly encourage this structured va/gao communication to continue after the rollout. it's the veterans service representatives all around the country who are working with veterans every day and they are in the best position to give you constant feedback about how in fact all this planning is playing out in the real world.
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another innovation in this law we're studying and applying more broadly is the authority the statute provides va to pilot various components, both vba and bva did avail themselves of this authority and i know the lessons learned in these pilots will mean and are already meaning a faster and fairer process for veterans in the end and that is, after all, the point of this whole undertaking. we're on the verge of one of the most significant improvements in a generation in how veteran disability compensation claims are processed. i want to congratulate all those who have worked so hard to make these historic changes possible. i want to congratulate our esteemed chairman, dr. roe, to the subcommittee chairman, mr. bost, to the leadership in the va in two different administrations, to chairman isaacson and ranking member tester, our counterparts in the senate, and of course to the
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leadership at the vsos who are will to put aside quite a few concerns and differences at the start of this process to bring us altogether to the table to come to where we are today. i have some questions as well about the i.t. systems, but i will reserve those for later. because this is my last opportunity to publicly comment on this important reform, i'm going to end my remarks with two points. first with optimism. with optimism about how this makes more accurate and timely recommendations for veterans and the up precedented willingness that has been shown by all to communicate constantly and to work together in the service of the same goal, that is serving the veterans that we are sworn to serve in honor for what they have provided to this country. it has been a pleasure over the last two years to be on this
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committee, the last six years in congress working on behalf of veterans. i want to again thank the chairman for his leadership, my ranking member counterpart, the chairman of the subcommittee, mr. bost and for all the members the esteemed committee and our guests today. thank you for your work every day on behalf of veterans. thank you, mr. chairman. i yield back. >> thank you for your yielding and your kind comments. joining us today are the honorable james byrne, acting deputy secretary. he is accompanied by the honorable cheryl mason, chairman of the board of veterans appeals, david mcklinican, and by lord thorpe, deputy chief information officer, elizabeth kurter, the director of education workforce. thank you all for being here this morning. acting deputy secretary byrne,
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we'll start with you. you're recognized for five minutes. >> good morning, chairman roe, ranking member esty and members of the committee. thank you for inviting me to testify on va's implementation of the veterans appeals improvement modernization act of 2017. my thanks to this committee for its devotion to veterans, for its strong support of veterans and va and for keeping all of us above partisan politics. i've been acting deputy secretary for just over three months. the year before i served as the va's general counsel. what is clear to me in a short time and to anyone watching is the va is on the cusp of the most comprehensive improvement since world war ii. in large part that's thanks to this committee's work and the administration's unmitigated support. appeals modernization is just one example of historic legislation congress has given
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veterans in the last two years. i'm happy to report that thanks to cheryl's, dave', and lloyd's leadership and their team's great work, we're on track for operational launch in february. we will continue to keep the committee apprised of our progress and alert it to any early or delayed publication of the regulations. before we take your questions, i'd like to quickly touch on a few points. first, board and vba i.t. teams have worked collaboratively and productively over the past year. we expect to meet all appeals modernization i.t. milestones. appeals modernization implementation is not facing the i.t. challenges we've seen with forever gi bill implementation. second, i appreciate concerns that appeals modernization could distract from legacy appeal work, but we continue making historic progress on legacy appeals. we reduce the appeals inventory
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by 9.6% in fiscal year '18 despite receiving nearly 188,000 new appeals. vba exceeded their production targets by 12.5% and the board issued a record number of decisions. 62% more than fiscal year 2017. we accomplished this by resolving over 168,000 appeals and administering the rapid appeals modernization program, r.a.m.p. we'll continue balancing resources with requirements and preserve focus on legacy appeals through implementation and beyond. third, to facilitate smooth implementation, we set and achieved aggressive hiring goals and the board and vba have collaborated on training and outreach. the board has provided staff large-scale training that will continue through full implementation and vba dwo developed, delivered and continuously updates training
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for employees involved in r.a.m.p. in the new processes. finally, both r.a.m.p. and the board's early applicability have tested processes, technology and assumptions and helped inform the new system, . r.a.m.p. gives them the opportunity to have decisions reviewed under modernized processes. as of last wednesday veterans had moved 175,600 appeals from the legacy to the modernized process. vba has completed nearly 33,000 higher level review and supplemental claims decisions under r.a.m.p. on average in 120 days and has paid almost $137 million in retroactive benefits. in october, the board began adjudicating appeals in r.a.m.p. as of monday they received over 930 r.a.m.p. appeals. beam, the smaller scale research
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program, has captured qualitative feedback from veterans and representatives that will further inform implementation. the board will provide beam outcomes in its assessments later this month. appeals modernization is a good news story for veterans and va. we collaborated on a realistic, effective, flexible plan and have been executing against that plan and making steady progress. veterans can expect a modernized appeal process on time in february, 2019. thank you for your support and for inviting us to testify today. we look forward to your questions. >> thank you, mr. byrne. now, miss curda, you're recognized for five months. >> chairman roe, ranking member esty and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me. i would like to commend the committee for your extensive oversight of va's manning for this complex endeavor.
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the new process will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of veterans with disabilities, and therefore requires careful planning to improve va's chance of success. last march we reported that while va's initial plan reflected aspects of sound planning, improvements were still needed to provide greater assurance that appeals reform will be successful. we recommended that it address all legally required elements in the appeals modernization act, two, articulate how it will monitor and assess the performance of the appeals processes, three, augustment its project plan for implementation, and four, address risk more fully. va agreed with our recommendations. today i will discuss our observations on how va's updated plan reflects progress in implementing our four recommendations and areas where their plan could be more robust. first, regarding the five legal requirements that were not fully addressed in march, va has addressed one element related to projecting productivity and
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partially addressed four remaining elements. for example, va's plan does not contain required metrics for monitoring implementation and is still missing information the agency will need to certify that it has the resources needed to carry out timely processing under the new and legacy appeal processes. regarding assessing the performance of the new process, vba has established some new performance measures and has plans to develop more. for example, va has taken steps to be able to measure and compare veterans' satisfaction with the new and legacy appeals processes. va officials have stated they plan to establish a balanced set of performance measures for all five new appeals options as we recommended, but va has not yet documented all of these measures or how it will assess the relative performance of the new and legacy processes. regarding project management, va has augmented its project plan to a limited extent. last march we reported that va's high level master schedule did
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not include all activities, show how activities should be sequenced, reflect interim goals and milestones for monitoring implementation or assign resources for activities. although va's project plan provides significantly more detail than it did initially, we found the plan only minimally met sound practices for project management. for example, the schedule did not contain a work breakdown structure that defines the work, activities and resources necessary to accomplish tasks. further, according to va's schedule, the agency needs to complete 117 activities between january 1st and when it plans to implement in february. the lack of a robust schedule poses risks to successful and smooth implementation in february. finally, regarding addressing risks more fully, va has addressed many, but not all key risks to implementation. for example, va is better positioned to mitigate risks by using new analytical tools to better project resource needs under different assumptions
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about opt-in rates and productivity. va has also addressed risk by testing the two appeals options at vba through r. ampta.m.p. an using preliminary results to update the appeals process. it also initiated a small scale nongeneralizable test of the three new board options. va has used this limited test to learn about veterans' preferences among the new board options and to update the training, guidance, systems and forums needed for full implementation. however, va has not tested all aspects of the new appeals process. for example, va only recently began adjudicating cases for veterans in r.a.m.p. who were allowed to appeal subsequently to the board. va's august 2018 progress report identified a risk that veterans may appeal to the board at higher rates, which could have implications for timeliness and quality of decisions. however, va's plan does not identify a mitigation strategy for this significant risk. in summary, va has made some
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concrete progress to improve its planning for disability appeals reform while it attends to legacy appeals. however, significant risks exist with launching the new process in february. fully implementing our recommendations could better position va to ensure successful implementation, but doing so prior to february 2019 may be challenging. the option remains to phase in implementation to allow time for more testing and plan improvements. in any event even after implementation, va could better assure that the new process meets veterans needs by continuing to improve its approach to measurement, scheduling and risk management. this concludes my prepared statement and i will be happy to address the committee's questions. >> thank you. i will start yielding myself five minutes. i'll start with mr. byrne. we're two months out from the earliest date. i heard you say i think three times, out from the earliest date that appeals modernization will be fully implemented.
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do you know what the secretary intends to certify hearing what ms. curda just said that appeals is ready for full implementation next month? that's when he has to certify, 30 days out. >> that's correct, sir, he's ready to certify in january based upon what we know now. >> knowing that, then i'll go straight to the next question which is directed at you also, mr. byrne. the va agreed with all four of gao's recommendations in march of this year that improved planning practices would be better and ensure a successful appeals reform. does va continue to agree with those recommendations? >> i'm trying to remember all -- there were four of them. yes, sir, i believe so. i may ask for chairman mason to help me with that question. >> yes, sir. va does continue to agree with gao's recommendations and we're
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working very closely with gao on implementing some of those changes and taking some suggestions and working towards a more robust plan. >> well, then having -- if we're ready to go and gao says there's 117 activities that they would recommend, they're not sure you can get to that point, and look i'm all for if it takes another month, believe me, after going through this gi bill, if it's march when we certify it, i don't have any problem with that. some people have been waiting for five, six, seven, eight years so i think another month to get this out right, and i think you all have made tremendous progress. but how would you answer, mr. byrne or miss mason, either one, her comments a minute ago that a phased-in approach might be better? >> my understanding is we are ready to go and we'll alert this body if we're going to be able to implement early or later. as i understood some of the
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recommendations, they were about backup and redundancy plans. i believe we have addressed some of those. i'm not best positioned maybe to answer those. but the two core issues are, are we ready with the regulations, are we ready with the i.t. it's my understanding that we are and i have good reason to believe based upon questions to these folks that we are. >> and just a question on the i.t. i guess, themr. thrower. i assume you were the project manager on putting the system together. do you think this i.t. system is going to work and the gi bill didn't? >> well, actually i am not the project manager, but i am the liaison between i.t. and the board in managing this. this is actually a very different scenario than the gi bill. first off, let me just tell you as of this past weekend, we have deployed the solution for all of
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the ports of vbms that are required to implement this bill. it is deployed and ready in the field. the case flow work has been incrementally delivered over the last nine months. there are maybe two things that i know of that they're finishing up over the next month and those i have very good confidence about. a very important difference in this scenario than the gi bill scenario is that in this instance we are updating -- to accomplish this, we are updating two critical va systems that we have actually had boots on the groundwo working very hard long before this bill passed. there are execution teams that are very familiar with the code, they were fully funded, and the level of requirements that we had to deal with as simpler. >> i think you had another thing too. i think the idea that you phased in r.a.m.p. allowed you to see
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through any hiccups without having it all dumped in your lap at one time. i think that was a very smart way to do it, to begin the way that you did and then if there were problems, they weren't major problems affecting hundreds of thousands of people, they were affecting a few hundred or a few people maybe and you could see those. i think that was a -- i think there's a lesson to be learned there, i truly do. >> that's a very good observation, sir, thank you. >> mr. lamb, you're recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. if i could just pick up where the chairman left off, mr. thrower, would you walk us through that just a little bit, how the rollout of new i.t. in this pilot project worked and maybe what the lessons are for other i.t. projects are that we have in the va? >> okay. >> i guess i'm just asking are there concrete examples in the last year or so -- >> i will say that the most important -- i think that this
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was an excellent example of where the organization fully implemented its agile development principles, where we had incremental deliverables scheduled throughout the process. first we had very tight integration with t integration from day one so there was no air gap in terms of understanding and requirements of what was needed. we laid out a schedule early on of capabilities that needed to be done in may, in september and in december, which we actually published in our report to congress. you had available to you on the vbms side. on the case flow side, we were doing incremental waves of development from -- actually from the last two years that have all fed into the successful implementation of this. >> how well tested has the case flow side of it been at this point? do you know how many cases it has handled? >> actually i would have to defer to miss mason.
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>> the caseload is currently operational and has been operational from the point that vba puts the cases into the process, into intake, and then case flow queue manages the cases. so pieces of it have been built and operational. so we started with the intake at the board and dispatch. so all of our dispatch cases for at least i want to say at least the last six months, i would have to double check that, but i'm pretty sure the last six months of fy '18 were handled and the intake part where vba sends the cases into the board, that's been, i believe, operational from vba from about the same time period, maybe a little bit more. the case flow queue program which manages the dockets, that has been fully operational for the past couple of months. we phased it in as well.
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there was a user tester period and we've continued to phase in. we're currently in final user testing and phase-in for the -- how the cases within ama and legacy will be used through the algorithm that actually manages how the cases are dispersed. so we're pretty -- we're pretty operational with all the cases currently at the board. >> i guess i'm just asking for an estimate of the sample size that have been tried in that new program. >> i would have to take the current -- i would have to take that as a do out on that. i know the majority of the cases dispatched from the board this last year, the 85,000, at least half of those came through case flow dispatch so those were all handled at that point. i will have to get back to you on how many the case queue program is but that's how cases are being processed currently.
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>> and what does user satisfaction appear to be so far. >> it's very high at the board. dave? >> same thing. yes, actually chairman mason is correct. in fact one of the first pieces that case flow delivered was when we certify an appeal, a legacy appeal to the board, that's been in place for well over a year now. that actually doesn't just help the efficiency of managing the work and sending it over, it actually improves the quality of our certifications to the board so it had a very large impact. >> okay. and was that an off-the-shelf purchase or was that partially developed within the va? can you just tell me the history of that? >> case flow? >> yes. >> that's built by digital service. digital service has been in va since late 2015 and they were already working on building a caseload system before the law passed. >> got it. thank you very much. mr. chairman, i yield back. >> vice chair, you're
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recognized. >> thank you, mr. chairman, i appreciate it. first question is for acting deputy secretary byrne. according to information provided the staff, the vbms release was supposed to contain the remainder of the vbms functionality needed to implement the law with planning, production, validation testing occurring in january and february. if after all the testing, hopefully this will not be the case, va realizes that the vbms appeals functionality is not working as intended, what is va's backup plan, contingency plan, backup plan, what have you? >> the legacy appeals process will still be working for a while, so they would fall back into those is my understanding.
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>> can you -- >> excuse me. >> yes, please. >> sir. >> and address the new appeals as well. >> well, i will just say that the work in vbms to make it done is finished. it is fully tested and is deployed. >> okay. let me ask another question of deputy sector byrne. according to the update va plans to hire 542 new claims processors, is that correct? and will place them primarily in st. petersburg, which is just outside of my district in florida and in seattle, this is what i was told. how many of the 542 new claim processors will be placed into the appeals positions near -- in st. petersburg, the division in st. petersburg.
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>> i may ask mr. mclenahan for the specifics. >> 605 fte was the additional appropriation we got for appeals in fy '19 so thanks to the committee and others in congress for that support. about 75% of that hiring is already done. the distribution between those two locations is about 400 in st. pete and the remainder in seattle. as i said, 75% complete. those will be up an running by february. >> how will you ensure that these people are appropriately trained, again on the appeals process and the applicable laws and regulations? >> yes. so we've already hired all of the management team for those two locations and we've hired all of the production employees with just a few exceptions. a majority of the production employees are already hired. some of them are already in
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training and we have training scheduled for the remainder to go into, so they're going through our challenge training program to prepare them for doing that work. that's all been scheduled and in place. >> chairman mason, how many years do you estimate it will take for the board to address the current legacy appeals backlog? how many years, one year, two years, three years? >> it's going to take more than one year, sir. >> give me a ballpark, please. >> that's really hard for me to do without guest mating. vba does have a deadline they have set plus we are bringing in the ama cases and working those and balancing those. we do expect to be able to tell you a timeline after february, after we start the new process because the legacy will -- all the cases then will be in ama
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and we will have a better number, a determination of how long it will take us. >> so you'll get back to us, this committee in february? >> it will be after the february 14th launch. >> after february. >> so i'm hoping early spring. but as soon as i have it, i will report out, as i have done with my other responses. >> please get it to us, i appreciate that very much. >> i will do so, sir. >> and then secretary byrne, what are va's plans for comparing the performance of the legacy system and new appeals process using a range of goals and measures like timeliness and of course veteran satisfaction, which is so very important? >> it's my understanding there are and will be several surveys to inform us going forward with implementing the new modernization. feedback from veterans is key to everything we do, in particular claims and appeals such as this.
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so it's a circle, a loop, sir, of feedback. >> as far as can you address the timeliness as well? satisfaction, sure, from the veteran. but timeliness. give me a range, what's the goal as far as timeliness is concerned in general. >> so i have a general thought of that. i think chairman mason can give us some specifics, i think. >> sure. both the board and vba are monitoring our metrics or both performance quality and timeliness. as we move forward as we brought the table before you in the spring, we're starting to plug those numbers in and adjust those numbers a little bit. we will have timeliness goals for you. vba already runs those in the r.a.m.p. program with the average of 125 days. the board expects had to the direct docket in an average of 365 days. the other two lanes i'm hoping again to get metrics on that once i get into the system. the current r.a.m.p. appeals
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program is giving me some early data, but at this point in time until i start running all five dockets and get that absolutely running and launched, i'm not comfortable giving you full data on the timeliness but i will get back to you. but we are monitoring all of that and vba and the board are collaborating very closely on all of that data and we are running the metrics just as we are required to under section 5 of the ama. >> thank you very much. i yield back, mr. chairman. appreciate it. >> thank you for being with us. i just want to go back to the veteran experience, if we could. can you walk us through after this is all online what the veteran experience would be, what their choices would be and what the time frames would be that they can expect for resolution of their claim? >> i can pull up my chart and follow it, ma'am, but i can assure you that chairman mason
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right off the top of her head can walk you through that in very, very fine details. >> i'm fine to hear it from her, i just want the american people to know what veterans can expect. >> so first and foremost, we are working very closely with the office of veterans experience within the department and working on those surveys. we already have surveys launched and are already receiving satisfaction information back on those. so that's the first thing we're looking at. the second thing we've also launched is the appeals status tracker on the va website to allow veterans to log on and see exactly where their appeal is and exactly where their claim is and that provides them feedback where they are. so those things are already launched and running. both the board and vba have been very transparent with our numbers on how we're doing and what we're doing, both in training programs. mr. mclenechen and i have been out speaking. we have provided the timelines of 125 days for vbas, what their
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expectation is and that's an average. we'll continue to monitor that within vba. again, the direct docket is the 365 lane. we expect to complete those within the 365 -- >> including a hearing? >> hearings are not. hearings is a separate lane. the additional evidence lane, which is 90 days, additional evidence submission and the hearing lane are going to take a little bit longer. the situation with hearings at the board is i currently have 71,000 in the legacy that have requested hearings an i am working on those. ivory distributed my resources and expect to announce something very soon with collaboration on hearings which will impact the ability of the board to hold more hearings. >> do you have sufficient resources and personnel to process the 71,000 hearings? >> i do. it's going to take me a minute, but we have actually reduced that number. we started the year with over 80,000, and we were able to hold
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16,000 hearings last year. we offered 24,000. veterans either rescheduled or did not appear for approximately 9,000 of those cases. this year we expect to offer -- we've already started, but we expect to offer over 34,000 hearing opportunities. to date the board has held over 4,500 hearings, which is ahead of schedule from what we offered last year. we're continuing to do that. >> so it would take somewhere between two to five years to process the backlog. how many new hearings are requested every year? >> right now with the appeals -- with the ama coming in out of the 930 r.a.m.p. cases the board has received to date, 450, approximately 450 of those are hearing requests. >> so half. roughly half? >> and that's generally what we've seen. that's generally our average is about half request hearings. that is something we are looking
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and i have already started to change my resource allocation with my judges on how we handle the decisions and the hearings. i expect that will have an impact going forward. as we start to implement those changes, i will be happy to report back to you all on how we're doing. again, the board does report information on its website on a regular basis, usually weekly, on how we're doing on the decisions dispatched as well as the hearings held. that is our mission. those two things are our mission and that's my job is to make sure that we do them and get those results to veterans. >> and our job is to make sure you have the resources to do that. so just trying to do the math in my head, it doesn't sound as though you'll be able to process the backlog while you keep up with half of the new cases requesting hearings, so i would just recommend to the chair and
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to the incoming chair next session that we consider additional resources to help you get through this. >> thank you, ma'am. >> i yield back. >> thank you for yielding. mr. coppin, you're recognized. >> thank you, mr. chairman. chairman mason, the -- chairwoman mason, the r.a.m.p. pilot was implemented to test the new appeals process prior to full implementation. your testimony indicates r.a.m.p. has been successful, noting over the past year 74,399 appeals were processed using r.a.m.p. which reduced the legacy appeals inventory. what percent of these r.a.m.p. appeals met quality standards?
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specifically, how many appeals, decisions received a quality review to ensure accuracy and identity errors that would warrant retraining for employees? >> so first i'm going to answer the question as to r.a.m.p. appeals at the board which just started in october and then i'll hand it over to mr. mclenachen because he has that data and is in charge of that base. as far as r.a.m.p. appeals at the board, we have our quality review system in place and we are running quality review. we did quality review on the first 40 r.a.m.p. appeals that were issued and since then we have run the statistical standard on that. if we -- we have not yet seen any indications of a need for training or trends there but we are working closely. our current quality rate at the board for both the r.a.m.p. appeals and for board decisions is over 92%. mr. mclenachen.
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>> so we look at quality a number of different ways at the r.a.m.p. program. keep in mind this is a temporary program so we are really focused on setting up a new quality assurance program for the higher level reviews when we tart that process in february. but for r.a.m.p. we did 100% quality review for the training for the 12 stations doing the r.a.m.p. processing. in addition to that we have a local quality assurance program where a sample of the work that's being done is reviewed locally. in addition to that, we've done four site visits at some of the stations that have been processing r.a.m.p. the longest. that included taking samples of claims that were decided and reviewing quality on that basis. we are also doing special focus reviews. this was primarily to ensure that because it is a little bit of a cultural change for higher level reviewers in particular that they are following the procedures that we put out for
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r.a.m.p. so those special focus reviews really zeroed in on that. so we have a pretty comprehensive program for reviewing the r.a.m.p. decisions and making sure that they're accurate. i want to point out one of the advantages of the r.a.m.p. program, once they get a decision, they're in the new process so that means they have that control and options over their review that they would have after february anyway. if they're still dissatisfied with that decision that they get on the average of 120 days, they have all the options and benefits of the new process that was in the law, to include choosing another option once they get that decision. so really that is the real advantage of opting in through r.a.m.p. is you get all the benefits of the new system. >> chairwoman mason, how are vba and bva ensuring, and i think part of this was answered, ensuring the quality of claims processed using r.a.m.p. and beam? >> so the beam again was a
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small-scale program that the board tested to see if our communications and what veterans were understanding in various different organizations from the vsos as well as our advocates. and so we were able to get feedback from the beam program, qualitative feedback, and change some of our form letters and respond in that way to the feedback. the board and vba work very collaboratively together on our training and quality review process. recently in november the board and vba launched an appeals to training initiative that we are working together to provide training to -- really it's a dual training action. we provide some training to vba and they give us some feedback on what they're seeing with our cases. we just launched that project. it's got great feedback initially and that's how we expect to move forward. that's the vehicle we're going to use as we move out to process
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the feedback and the trends that we're seeing as a result of that. >> mr. chairman, i yield back. >> thank you. miss mason, if you wouldn't mind, would you sending us a blank survey, one of those surveys so both sides of the aisle can look at that. we'd just like to see it. >> absolutely. we can get that from the veterans specioexperience offic. happy to do that. >> thank you. mr. o'rourke, you're recognized. >> thank you, mr. chairman. from the opening testimony it seemed as though the gao was telling us that we weren't ready for implementation in february. based on your recommendations you didn't feel like there was enough time for va to implement those and you suggest a phase-in approach. then if i heard you correct, mr. secretary, you feel that the va is ready and that there's no need to have a phase-in approach. so i wonder, ms. curda, given
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what you've heard from secretary byrne and chairwoman mason whether their answers to our questions so far address your outstanding concerns and whether you agree with them that they're ready to go. i would love for y share with us what you think the consequences are if the v.a. goes without having addressing the legal requirements, the performance measures and the project amendment concerns, including 117 activities -- you mentioned not a robust schedule to implement those and then the risks which is your fourth point. >> certainly. i mean, i think that there is nothing i've heard today that surprisingly we've been talking to the v.a. folks all along and certainly have their perspective on this. i would say the biggest risk from our perspective to implementation is the risk that when veterans are faces with five new options, which has not been tested before, that larger numbers of them will go -- opt for a hearing at the board.
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that is the most resource intensive option. and could have implications for the ability of the board to process legacy claims and also to take care of the folks that are now signing up for something new and they were hoping that would get better for them. so in terms of mitigating that risk, we have recommended taking several steps as they -- if they continue to fully implement, articulate expectations for performance so they can monitor against those expectations and see are we meeting or not meeting goals. and then even if they delay full implea. ation of the process, they could allow more time to model test or phase in the board options and develop contingency plans if outcomes are not what is expected. in terms of another sort of big risk area is -- and i think the board has alluded to this a little bit, this is large scale
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change for everyone involved. all of the staff, all of the managers, you're hiring new people. and change management is complicated business and can take time. it is critically important to communicate to all of the players and the stakeholders what is happening with the change. and the stakeholders as well. and it has to be -- there has to be buy-in. so that could take a little bit of time and i'm not completely sure that the change management to date has been as robust as it could be. and was there another aspect to the question? >> i'm just wondering if these outstanding concerns are not addressed and the v.a. does not take a phase-in approach in implements without being fully ready, what is the worst that could happen to veterans? and one of the things i think you hear you saying is there may
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not be resources there and that is following up on miss custer's questions of unintended consequences of paths veterans may choose and perhaps a suggestion is that in the next congress we appropriate additional resources to meet that demand. i wonder, secretary byrne, one of the concerns raised that seems to be a consistent problem with the v.a. and chairman airing han has been good, is the lack of performance measures. how to know whether you are successful, how you are doing along the way and that was a second outstanding concern from the gao. v.a. has not developed measures to assess performance. how will you know if you are successful or not? >> so that is a fair question and i think the gao concerns are fair as well. but the big picture is that we're offering the veterans choice and control over the appeals processes that is sort of unprecedented. making it easier and very
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veteran user-friendly. the phased in approach -- i appreciate that comment. however ramp has given us a pretty good picture of how this is going to be implemented. >> if i could interrupt, i'm out of time. if we don't have defined goals, we don't know how we're doing. you could say we're doing our best, given veterans options and hired a lot of people and this is better than what it was but if i don't know the target, how can we gage your performance and hold you accountable. so of the concerns raised by gao that is most concerning and i hope you can come up with defined performance measures to hold ourselves accountable. i yield back to the gentleman. >> thank you. >> thank you, mr. chairman and the ranking member and thank you to the panel for being here today. my questions for the honorable
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cheryl mason. chairman mason, the secretary has delegated to you the authority to oversee appeals, reform implementation. have you faced any challenges in overseeing implementation given that you do not have line authority over all of the different elements of v.a. that are involved in appeals reform such as vba and oint. >> thank you for your question, ma'am. the board, the way the situation works with the board, is the board is the secretary's dezig knee to handle appeals from all of the administration and general counsel and so that is under the law where the board having said that, you're correct the board does not have line authority over the v.a. there is no way i can tell the usb what to do. but we work very collaboratively in that department. and the one thing i will tell you is the new -- under
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secretary wilkie and deputy secretary byrne we've implemented a strong governance process where we all come together on a monthly basis and discuss all of the issues before us. arno and so it is a collaborate issue. so while i may have point for this, it's a collaboration. so if there is a concern on appeals and the vba side or an issue with oint, that is something that the department handles as a governance body. it is not just me. i just am the driver to make sure that i bring those issues to the governance board. to date i have not had any issues. we work very collaboratively together and have done so since i became chairman. >> so how are you ensuring that v.a. has a comprehensive and cohesive plan to successfully develop and implement the new system? >> well, the under secretary for
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benefits and i meet every two weeks and discuss every challenges within the appeal structure and this planning. i also meet on a regular basis with oint leadership and we talk about the customer service requirements there. and it is the same thing with -- with vha. i meet with the acting p desk so i have oversight on all of that through the secretary and the acting deputy secretary and then my job is to report out if there is any issues. but we do have a comprehensive plan. that is what you've seen in the 90-day reports that we've sen out. the board has had the lead on putting those together. but again, it is a collaboration. we have to work in partnership and we have to take care of all of our customers across the organization in order to deliver results to veterans. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i yield back. >> thank you, gentle lady for yielding. >> thank you mr. chairman. i would like to raise the
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question the vso's have raised with me. they've raised concerns the i.t. system is not ready for implementation and specifically raised concerned their unable to view legacy cases through case flow. can you provide a specific date by which the vso will have access to legacy cases via case flow. >> currently we are testing the co-located vso at the board. they do have access at the board right now. we just rolled that out on a limited basis, we're testing that. that is part of the phase-in. as we go forward into january '19 and full delivery in february, we expect to broaden that. that will be more of a phased in process with case flow because there are procedures that the vso have to go through to meet those access requirements that our department requirements. so we are also -- already working and they do have access
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in the program now. >> thank you, because i f-- i know that's very important in our effort to address issues if they cannot see the vso on the front line or see the legacy claims we are not getting the promised benefit of this i.t. innovation. the next question i want to address was one that the chairman referenced at the very beginning. we think it is very important to have these goals and these timelines, but we have seen happen with other v.a. ambitious programs that they've rolled out in an effort to meet a timeline and lost the trust of the veterans we're here to serve. have you considered, given the 117 items i believe miss curda mentioned, that need to be completed and some of them may be very small, but 117 items between january 1st and february 14th is a lot. and they'll be a new congress and lots of questions. have you considered delaying
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that in order to be certain you've done the beta testing, you're prepared to do the rollout fully so we do not lose the good will we've been all attempting to regain from veterans. >> that is a very fair question, ma'am. and i can assure you there has been some robust discussions certainly over the last couple of weeks about implementation of various programs and this one in particular. this is one that i can tell you that the secretary and i have a lot of confidence in the implementation being met on time. the regulations, we don't completely control that process. it's being evaluated right now. so that would be the hold up from an i.t. perspective my understanding is we are much, much further -- in fact we are implementing. my understanding is we're driving that car right now and that is why from a layman's perspective, the secretary and i have confidence that we'll be able to implement this on time. the caveat is the regulations. but we have every indication
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that is going to be on time as well. >> thank you. you mentioned on beam that we've only had 30 cases go through right now. and mr. byrne you indicated that that was being qualitative feedback and yet for the process to fully run out, you're moving from about 900 cases of which only 30 have gone through, what assurance do you have you're going to be in a position again in less than two -- in about two months to be able to have this fully functioning, the beam portion fully functioning so that you understand how those cases go through and are ready to implement them across the board. >> so i'll touch on that lightly and then maybe ask chairman mason to help me out on that. beam, as i understand it, was a very detailed interview feedback loop process with our veterans to ensure we were delivering to them the control and choice that they've been asking for. from the veterans and from the
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vso and from within internal. as far as the actual implementation, i think those are apples and oranges. the implement is about the regulations available on time and the i.t. solution performing. and we have a pretty high degree of confidence and i understand we -- we may be all be a little gun shy about actual execution, but in this case there is a pretty high degree -- there is a high degree of confidence we'll be able to execute as predicted in february. >> well it gets to be more precise whether you can incorporate that detail from cases whether you feel that is sufficiently broad and ready to go -- >> ma'am, we have incorporated. thank you. we have incorporated that feedback already in our form letters and actually the -- t the -- the n.o.d. form for the board specifically. and so that beam was enough for
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us to get that initial information. but then we also had the ramp program running at vba as well as what the board took over and that did give us -- continue to give us information on top of the vao details. >> thank you. >> thank you very much mr. chairman, i appreciate it. and i appreciate the great bipartisan work over the last couple of years on this committee. i represent the rural part of the state of maine. now some people think that all of maine is rural but that is not true. and health care closer to home is really a critical issue for our veterans up in rural maine and i'm delighted that all of this work has been done such that our veterans now, the law of the land can get their health care closer to home. that initiative started with a pilot program, mr. chairman. maine was one of five places in the country up in caribou, maine, where the arch program
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started and rolled out nationally and now we're here with these nice folks before us talking about this problem we've had for a number of years with the appeals backlog and you've had a couple of examples of pilot programs to roll this out and see what works. so i would like to ask you, mr. byrne and you can tell anybody beside you if that is more effective, but tell us what have you learned in your two pilot programs just like we've learned up in northern maine that led to the mission act in the choice program here rolled out nationally. what have you learned that you can learn -- that you can share with us such that when you roll this out big-time across the system, you won't -- you'll have a better success rate? and if i may, miss mason, be as specific as you can, please. >> sure. i think i'm going to start and i'm going to -- delegate it to
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mr. mclenachen. what the board has learned is how important that veteran feedback is and to listen to stakeholders because they've had some very -- >> do you have a way to get that feedback very easily -- user friendly for veterans, such they can log on to get back to you very quickly and easily so you can assess that? >> yes. we -- with the new experience customer surveys we can receive that feedback immediately. >> and how about folks that live in rural maine that don't have access to the internet? how do you do that? >> i think they can do surveys both electronically and via mail. i have to check on that one, sir. >> that would be great if you could get back to me. >> i'll hand the rest of that answer over to mr. mclenachen. >> so ramp helped us and this goes back to the previous question, we've done 34,000 decisions in the ramp program. so it wasn't just the feedback
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we're getting from the small scale beam program but all of the decisions that we're making. so we're getting feedback from representatives of veterans, from veterans, from our own employees -- >> and when have you learned that you can share with us. >> sure. we've learned how to improve the procedures that we're launching permanently next -- in february. >> be specific. give me an example, please. >> sure. a higher level reviewer has to do -- in some cases an informal conference with the veteran. we've received a lot of feedback about how to make that process better and improved the scheduling of those. there is a lot of those type -- >> right now, just on average, sir, how much time in the legacy system currently today if a veteran has an appeal because he's lost hearing and he gets back the decision from you nice folks that it is not what he expects it to be or what it should be, how long does it now take to go through that process on average? >> on average, three to seven years. >> three to seven years? >> yes. >> how long do you think it will take with the new system that
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you are implementing that we've given you money to do. >> it is designed for early resolution, so average of 125 days in the two vba lanes and then at the board the chairman said the fastest opportunity there is an average of one year. >> so you expect to go from three to seven years to roughly four months to one year? god bless you. we're all behind you. i hope you do it. our veterans deserve this. >> right now we're processing ramp claims at an average of 120 days. >> okay. how are you getting the vsos involved because so many of our veterans on the ground touch our veteran service organizations on a regular basis. how are you bringing them into the fold such that they can help you roll this out effectively, get the word out and keep our veterans well informed. how are you doing that? >> this goes back to the chairman's opening statement, taking you back to march of 20 -- march of 2016. we started getting all of the
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stakeholders together -- >> and are they doing their job to help us with this. >> absolutely. they've been with us every step of the way to include promoting ramp and everything. >> and mr. byrne, quickly here, you folks have mentioned hiring a bunch of people to make sure this moves smoothly and i think you have -- excuse me 385,000 people at the veterans administration. can you find any people internally to do this so we don't have to spend taxpayer money to go outside and do this all over again? were you able to do that? >> to a certain degree i think we were. -- >> how many of the people that you had to hire for this project came from the inside? >> can i ask chairman mason for that -- >> yes, of course. >> we looked at offering opportunities to all of our employees we have to take that as a do out and get back to you. i don't know how many internal. >> so two things to get back to me with right.
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>> yes. >> thank you. good luck, everybody. >> there is a new york minute and then there is a maine minute. and those are different. [ laughter ] >> and i now yield to mr. carea. >> thank you, mr. chairman. to the panel, the application and implementation of the appeals modernization act, how are you including the vsos in that process? >> so i'm just going to touch briefly. the vso were on the ground floor coming up with control and choice for the veterans. they were a driving factor in this. and we continue to have feedback with them in this process. and their service representatives are also a key part of -- >> you describe how you are actually getting feedback and implementing that feedback. >> that i would have to kick over to the chairman. >> we have regular meetings, sir. both the secretary has regular
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meetings and received feedback, the chairman, the usb and we sometimes do joint meetings with vba but we are interacting with the vso on a regular basis at the board -- the board has co-located vsos that sit with us and handle the cases and we meet with them on a regular basis as well. so we are constantly taking feedback and constantly taking the pulse from our vsos. >> moving forward, do you see that to continue to be the case? >> absolutely. we can't go forward without them. >> any vsos here today? >> yes. >> yes? are we okay? satisfaction? yes, no? good. can't read sign language? are we okay. >> they gave a thumbs up. >> thumbs up. thank you. i yield. >> mr. higgins you are recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you ladies and gentlemen for your service to your
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country. mr. mclenachen, thank you for your service to your country. i understand you're an army veteran. i have constant communications with the veterans that i serve in south louisiana and in the primary -- the primary complaint regarding the appeals process and out of new orleans they're looking at appeals from 2014 and '15. certainly hundreds of backlog appeals cases. and most of the hearings, there's a requirement for the veteran to attend the hearing in new orleans. these guys have transportation problems. they have deteriorating challenges and the hearing gets moved and shifted and it is hard enough for them to get to the v.a. medical facility wherein we
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have treasure to modernize these facilities and in my district i have brand new c box and they are beautiful but i don't understand as a veteran myself why a veteran would be required to drive 200, 250 miles to a hearing when it is hard enough for them to get 20 miles to a c bock or his v.a. medical facility but yet we've invested in the facilities to make them tele-capable and the decisions about them appeals are medical in nature. so the -- i'm told that the v.a. states, that their i.t. systems in the appeals arena does not communicate well with the medical arena and this is -- it is just unacceptable to me as a veteran and as a congressman, would you please address that, sir, as a veteran yourself.
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>> yes, sir. and thank you. chairman mason is doing a lot of work in this area. the hearings that you're referring to are board hearings that -- the board judges handle. we do the scheduling but she's -- >> the legal questions i agree but they are based on medical conditions, are they not, 100% of the time. >> that is generally correct, yes. based on medical exams done and the initial decision process and then if there is an appeal to the board, one of the things the board looks at is did we fulfill our duty to assist the veteran in developing their claim which provides a medical examination. >> thank you for that answer. i asked generally, is there a commitment -- can we look for a commitment from the v.a. to integrate i.t. systems and to enhance the abilities of veterans to attend their hearings more locally at v.a. facilities, medical facilities, c bocks, et cetera, is that on the horizon. can we look at that. >> yes, sir, it is on the
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immediate horizon. >> thank you, madam, that is encouraging. >> i have questions i promised to get to. secretary byrne you serve as the v.a. general counsel. >> yes, sir. >> and thank you for your service. commander, correct? you were commander byrne, correct? >> lieutenant colonel in the marine corp. >> roger that. thank you for your service. what is the current status of regulatory changes you need to implement the appeals reform? >> the current regulatory process involves another component of the executive branch and that is where it is under review right now. and we have expectations that it will come out on time and be published sufficiently before the february 14th deadline. but we're tracking it and if we have any indications that it will come out early or late, we'll certainly let this body know. >> your optimism and tone has been encouraging. it is uplifting to us to hear that sort of a can-do attitude. we recognize what you guys are
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dealing with is incredibly difficult. i have a follow-up question for you, sir. will the secretary still certify next month if the final rule is not yet published. >> yes, sir, he will certify. >> he will certify if the final rule is not published? >> correct. >> i take that as a yes. >> yes, sir. >> and finally, even if the final regulations are completed prior to implementation, how can you ensure the v.a. disseminated that information and conducted training for staff on a new regulation and forms which is -- a nightmare in the v.a., getting your head wraps around these new forms are very complex prior to the effective day of the law. >> i'm going to kick this over but i hope the training is underway. i hope that is the answer we'll hear. >> that is the answer you will hear. the training has been underway for some time and on the board
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and i'll let mr. mclenachen take that but the board has training for both the new law and the i.t. changes and the forms and we're also working with our vsos in those areas as well. >> thank you for your response. mr. chairman, i yield. >> thank you. mr. takano, you're recognized. >> thank you, mr. chairman. secretary byrne and chairman mason, regarding legacy claims, could you discuss how we won't leave these people behind. we're talking about the legacy -- you understand what i mean by legacy claims, right? go ahead mr. secretary. >> i believe chairman mason will tell you that legacy -- that we're going to balance the resources that we have. but processing the legacy claims is a priority to reduce that backlog. >> that is right. that is correct, sir. the department made a commitment
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in march of 2016 when we started this process that led to the appeals modernization act passing. that we would prioritize the legacy cases. and we are keeping that commitment. at the board and i believe at vba, i can't speak for mr. mclenachen but it is my understanding they're also prioritizing those, at the board the case flow q program is in user testing, algorithm program built for us by digital services that have a prioritization piece in it that priority izes those legacy cases over the ama but the direct docket is the next level. >> mr. mclenachen. >> yes. we know what resources it will take to complete our legacy appeal and work the new system or separately allocating resources to each of those and we'll adjust as necessary when we go forward. >> okay. to both of you and chair mason,
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you have made efforts to meet with the union during the discussion, implementation of new regulation surrounding the appeals modernization act? >> the union at the board -- the union representative, we regularly meet with the union, the leadership team. it is not always me, it is sometimes my leadership team with my other duties. the union has been involved in our training process and is always a partner at the table to discuss how we're rolling those out. but there are management pieces that go to that that the management could make the decisions on and we give the union notification as required. >> mr. mclenachen. >> same answer. all the way back from when we implemented ramp through today, we've kept the union apprised of what we are doing, yes. >> so you would say it's fairly regular, weekly, monthly? >> it is usually monthly to quarterly depending on what the union request is. >> okay.
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have you incorporated any of those suggestions from these quarterly or monthly meetings or the comments that the union committed during the proposed rule making. >> yes. we looked at all comments from all employees and they gave feedback on the process when we spoke with them. specifically, i don't know that we used -- we used anything in the rule making on that. because that was an internal agency piece. but we did discuss what the comments were. >> mr. mclenachen. >> so usually the unions' concern is the impact of employees when we implement major initiatives like this so, yes, we have fully advised them of that and they've told us about their concerns about implementation and tried to address those as best we can. >> what assurances are you giving the front line employees that they'll have adequate time
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to adjust the new procedures and regulations as are being implemented and that they are not unfairly dinged during the imlementation and immediately thereafter. >> we had new production standards and met with union in august and september in preparation for appeals modernization and part of the change was to measure -- allow attorneys to measure production on the number of issues they do per decision which is exactly how we'll report. re we report the number of decisions the board does as well as the number of issues under appeals modernization and training piece that is part of our union agreement that they get a certain piece of time that doesn't count torts production and training. and i can't speak for -- >> same in vba. when we implement something like this, there is usually an acclamation period for employees
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to get used to procedure. i want to point out, the law does not change how the entitlement to benefits and process those claims. it is a process claims rather than changing the way they are used to making decisions based on the entitlement that veterans have. >> but nevertheless, you've -- you're representing to me that there is adequate time for the employees to adjust, as you say, acclimate. >> yes, that is the case. >> to the regulatory and procedural environment. i think i'm not going to take the maine minute and just yield back. >> thank the gentleman. i'm going to take a point of personal privilege and thank the members of the committee before everybody is gone. mike coffman, a classmate of mine, a veteran of the u.s. marine corp and the army. he made a good choice with the army. with due deference to colonel byrne. thank you for your services on the committee and the things you've done in folks in denver
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and you stayed on that. thank you so much for that. [ applause ] >> and miss este, you are leaving congress and it has been a pleasure working with you. you've had very positive things and intuitive things that you've done for not only constituents in your district but across your country. so thank you for that. [ applause ] >> and i tried to get before mr. o'rourke escaped to thank him for his work on the committee. he's been terrific and certainly has a position for the people in el paso and the people he represents and i want to thank all three of you who wouldn't be here next term to work on veterans issues. i know what is near and dear to your heart. me personally, thank each and every one of you. journal bergman, i now yield five minutes. >> it is okay to be a marine, though, right? even though we -- we like to think that mr. kaufman succeeded so successfully in the army because of his basic training in
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the corp. [ laughter ] >> thank you, everyone. we'll keep this to the point at hand. but speaking of veterans, in the first district of michigan, michigan as a state has a high percentage of men and women who serve and who are veterans. and in the first district of michigan we have almost double the percentage of veterans as do other districts in michigan. so it has been an honor these first two years to represent the veterans in the district and we're not getting any younger. and the point of that is has there been any consideration in the appeals process to prioritize older veterans because of where they are in the time in their life? >> actually -- do you want me to take this -- >> please. >> actually, sir, thank you for the question. it is a good point. actually the board does have an
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advance on the docket process already in place. the veterans is 75 or older, it is automatically flagged to go into that bin. and we work those cases first. and then our new algorithm, the advance on the docket cases are in -- those are all in the prioritization regardless of whether they are legacy or whether they are ama. the advance on the docket also applies to veterans who have terminal health issues as well as financial issues. and this past year on my own motion i advanced cases on the docket for the hurricanes, as well as the typhoon in the marianna islands and we're seeing a statement i believe by the end of the week that will address the california fires and the alaska earthquake. so we do advance cases for those veterans. and as veterans reach that age, it is an automatic flag. >> okay. is there something they have to fill out or is it just automatically because of the information they provide, your
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age and it is automatically then put into the -- >> for age, it is automatically flagged in our electronic system at the board. >> now communication is not what is said, it is what is heard. and understanding of words written may or may not translate into the veteran understanding when they receive a letter. and i received some interesting letters from government agencies addressing my senior status and different things that i have no clue what actually -- the point of the letter is. okay. and i'm not going to get into details and i think even asking a couple of other folks, what does this mean, there was some head scratching going on. so i know the v.a. -- i believe it has made an effort to make more understandable written communication so when that veteran receives it, they can actually understand what the point of the letter is. would anyone care to give me an
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example of success in that? >> yes, i actually -- i'm happy to point out that is a priority for the undersecretary. he has a program that he's running now where he has an individual leading a review of the letters that we use to do exactly that, make them more understandable -- >> so does that include -- not to cut in. does that include feedback as we talked about the feedback loop has been put in, is that -- does that include feedback if -- >> yes. >> -- so we can look at the success of a letter or success of phrases, is that something that is visible to us as a committee to see where the change has been made? >> yes. and in fact the model that we use for appeals modernization is something we're trying to use further in the department but in particular in vba. getting the input of veteran service organizations, veterans and getting their perspective on
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whether it is really understandable and then even at the department level, the veterans' experience office is very helpful and focused on that particular issue. >> we have survey results currently from the veterans experience office at least at the board level that we get on a regular basis that tells us how the judges are communicating at hearings and how our decisions are being received by veterans and that communication piece so we're looking at that regularly at the board. >> it is one thing and i know my time is coming short here. it is one thing to provide an opportunity for feedback. it is the second step of course is taking that feedback and truly evaluating it to then turn whatever it is you are trying to accomplish into a better document or better communication. thank you and i yield back. >> thank you. chairman arrington you are recognized. >> thank you, mr. chairman. first i want to associate myself with your commendation to our
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colleagues miss este and mr. kaufman, it has been a delight with you and wish you the very best and god's speed. and thank you all for your good work on the panel and it sounds like we're make something progress. the guy who held this seat that i serve in three decades ago is named ken hans. he would tell a story about a public school teacher in demmet, texas, a little town like a lot of towns in my district and farming and ranching and he had a public schoolteacher named miss littlepage and she taught in accounts, in accounting you have money coming in and you have money coming out. and if you have more money going out than you have coming in, you broke. and i want to apply miss littlepage's principle of accounting to this discussion. because you have incoming cases and then you have resolved or outgoing cases and if you got
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more incoming cases than you got outgoing, you broke. the system is broke. and we cannot continue with the backlog of over 400,000. the whole point of this was to have a more timely resolution of these claims. so let me just go through the numbers here and make sure my demmet/plainview/west texas map is working appropriately. the ramp claims, let me just start there. the ramp, and anybody could answer this who is the expert in ramp, but ramp deals with two of the three lanes, correct? and the anticipation of the pilot was that we'd have more people, i think, that signed up for ramp saying they would go to those two lanes. i think it was like 16% versus
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40%, so not as many people signed up for the -- or signed on to the two lanes that ramp is testing. is that a fair statement? >> it is. we did not know what we were going to get. we're at about 18% right now opting in and we've seen it go up every month that we've been running the program. >> one might believe in the case where you didn't get as many on the two lanes that ramp is testing that you would have more going into that third lane which is the board appeals. is that an accurate or fair assumption. >> that is possible. but we deliberately designed the ramp program not to include that lane because we don't just want to trade a long process that is broken now for those people going to the board. we wanted early resolution and we're doing that quickly in those two vva lanes. >> so you have -- so in november 30th there were 420,000 pending
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appeals. about 130 of those thousands of appeals were with the board, miss mason. and my understanding is that by 2024 it will be 400,000 pending. i'm reading -- let's see here. the board pro jekted the inventory to double between 2017 and 2024 from 150,000 to around 400,000. is that not accurate. >> what we're doing with that guesstimate and that is from more than a year ago so before i became chairman so i'm not exactly sure -- >> let's just say it is an approximate number. but 400,000. here is my bigger point. you guys have had a better number in terms of resolutions at about 85,000 in one year. >> right. >> but the incoming is 90 plus thousand, correct. >> this year we only received
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about 69,000 in the door. >> okay. do we expect it will be 90 every year. my understanding is that was a good round rolling average for the last several years, 90,000. >> you are correct. >> so if that continues and this is just an anomaly this year of 60 something, then we'll just always be in a deficit mode. and so you'll never get enough -- you won't have the capacity to receive the incoming. >> i don't know what you'll do with the legacy as mr. takano mentioned. what do we do with the back lag? will he ever have the capacity not to just meet the demand but exceed it. that is the only way we're going to get at that bigger legacy number of 400,000 plus. i'll stop because my time has expired but if the chairman would allow them to answer that long question. >> excellent question. the one factor you are not
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considering is in february we should -- we shut off the flow to the legacy process. every year we received more than 160,000 new legacy appeals. that is what we've been receiving. so the fact that we are at now 420,000, we were at about 475,000. while we were receiving that constant flow of 160,000 new appeals every year, that is significant that we brought that number down and when you shut the flow off in february, you will have no more going to legacy. and that is really the key that is missing in that discussion. is that is what the law does for us. it shuts the flow off to that broken system and you are absolutely correct, it is broken. so just considering that factor, we believe that we in vba will get through our legacy appeals in 2020 which is a -- a vast improvement about what -- over what we were talking about a couple of years ago. the wild card for the board is they get their appeals from us so we resolve what we can first,
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veterans choose appeal to them so the board is relying on what is flowing from us to them. in addition to that, we have flow back from the board, even though the board decided 85,000, which was great, many of those are remands back to vba where we have to do for work and that is the key to what is broken in the process. it is the constant churn back and forth between vba and the board. the committee's work shut that off in february. at least a good portion of it. >> and the other thing i want to go back to the stats you quoted. i don't believe those stats took into consideration the resources that congress gave the board in fy '17 that allows us to hire more people and increase our resources which you saw the payout from -- began to see the payout from in fy '18 and we will continue and so that will change what the estimate is. we're going to give you a new number. but i can't get there until i get -- it is after february. but you will get a new number,
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sir. >> that is a texas minute, right there. >> mr. connell, do you have any closing comments? >> yes. just briefly. mr. chairman, i thank all of the witnesses for coming forward and i've met with some of you in private. i am cautiously optimistic that the implementation will be successful and that the work that was done by this committee on a bipartisan basis to lay the groundwork for where you are, the work that my colleague miss este did as the ranking member and inheriting from ranking member dina titus and the whole way in which the vsos work together. and this committee worked together mr. chairman. this is a point of pride for me and our small talk up here, in the case that both of us have a
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cautiously good feeling about where this is going. i'm happy to hear that i.t. -- the work that you have done with digital services seems to have born good fruit. so i do want to say my farewell to mr. kaufman. i do admire the work you have done, sir. under my presumptive chairmanship you can remember that denver will not be forgotten and we care about all of the communities and make sure that all of the medical centers get up to snuff. miss est, what a pleasure to be your colleague and it was a great note of sadness that i see you departing. you are enormously talented but i know you'll be contributing to our country and our nation and you'll continue to contribute to your community. and of course mr. o'rourke, he's not here but enough said about him. there is a lot already being
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said about him and i have a feeling we haven't heard the last of him here. and what a special sacred bipartisan space this is. mr. chairman, i know we'll continue this relationship that we have and i will do my utmost to preserve the traditions of this committee. so thank you. >> will the gentleman yield? >> i will yield, yes. >> i'm excited and looking forward to the new leadership here and my understanding is that i'm looking at one of the new leaders of this committee. but i want to say something about the current leader as we wrap this session up. this is for many of us on the committee, our first term in congress. and i did not anticipate i would -- i have the privilege of serving on this committee and i certainly didn't fully
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appreciate how productive this committee would be. and i think a lot of that is the bipartisan nature. but it has to be stewarded by the captain of the ship. it trickles down from the top. and the leader of this committee sets the tone. and i just want to say, mr. chairman, and if ranking member waltz were here, i would commend him as well, but chairman thank you for your tremendous leadership, for all of us to lead us through one of the most -- it would have to be. i don't know the numbers. but to pass 80 veteran-related bills in the house, almost virtually all of them bipartisan coming out of this committee and to have almost 30 veteran-related reforms, major initiatives like the mission act and like the new forever gi
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bill, et cetera, et cetera, like this appeals process, i can't find another space and spot and place in the united states congress that has been more productive and more ably led and led in a way that reflects not just well on your colleagues but on the character of the men and women who wore the uniform who we are trying to serve. so that's -- you sa-- you set a great example for me and my freshman class and all of us on this committee. thank you for your leadership and thank you for your service. not just to our veterans but to our entire nation over this last two years in the 115th congress. >> thank you very much. [ applause ] >> appreciate your kind words. i do, thank you very much. it is much appreciated. and again you've heard me thank the committee profusely for what they've done. also want to thank the people
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who are here today. y'all have done a great job and we're excited about doing this because i can promise you every member up here, probably the most things -- individual cases we work on at home are veterans cases. and if we have one, two, maybe more people on our staff to work on those and most of them are appeals or something related to the v.a. and i want to thank you all for getting this up and ready to run. i think it will work and i think the ramp program really did give us a good trial run. as i said in the opening, i've heard any number of people come up and say, hey, doc, this ramp program got me case adjudicated rapidly. mr. higgins, i think the teleconference makes absolute sense if you have the capacity in the c bock why you can't schedule that with a veteran right there in their home town. it makes sense so they don't have to travel long distances, it is much more difficult for them to travel.
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many of the good ideas we flushed out today and i look forward to and one of the things i think i learned from this bill is to continue to break the stake -- the stakeholders back in every few months and go over everywhere we we are. we're doing that with mission next week. if we're here, we'll do a mission hearing next week, next wednesday afternoon. so i think we've learned a lot from y'all and kudos to you all for the good work you've done and i appreciate it and look forward to going live next year. mr. kaufman. >> [ inaudible ]. -- a retired physician was extremely important in terms of bringing and sharing that knowledge and your experiences
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with this committee i think is very important. and of course we all know the acronym for army stands for ain't ready for the marines yet but we won't go there. >> i won't yield any more time to that gentleman. i was about to dismiss us before we got done here. no further questions. thank you all for being here. ask unanimous consent that records be placed into the hearing record without objection so ordered and ask that consent that all members have five days to revise and extend remarks and include extraneous material. hearing no objection, the hearing is adjourned.
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[ hearing concluded ]
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tonight, american history tv looks at a recent conference hosted by the national world war ii museum in new orleans, starting with nick mueller, interviewed about his forthcoming book "everything we have" which commemorated the 70th anniversary of d-day with personal stories of people involved. that is american history tv, begins at 8:00 p.m. eastern. this week on american history tv prime time, tuesday we'll look at the united states immigration commission formed in 1907 at a time when an influx of migrants was seen as a national crisis. and wednesday political history with a discussion on populism
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and its role in the history of american politics. on thursday, co-author bob drury and tom claven talk about their book "valley forge" describing how they defeated continental army lasted through the harsh winter of 1777 and '78. and friday night, our american artifacts series which takes viewers to museums and historic sites around the country. we tour the americans exhibit at the national museum of the american indian in washington, d.c. >> money runs out for several federal agencies friday unless congress passes legislation. negotiations continue among the house, senate and white house. even though members are gone for the weekend. among the issues, whether president trump's southern border wall gets funding. the house meets next for legislative work on wednesday with votes


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