REP. MIKE THOMPSON SECURES COMMITMENT THAT IMPROVEMENTS WILL BE MADE AT VA OAKLAND REGIONAL OFFICE
Releases Letter from Brigadier General Allison A. Hickey Detailing Improvements at Local Veterans Roundtable
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-01), Laurence Carroll, Director of the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center and new Veterans Affairs (VA) Oakland Regional Office Director Michael Bragg today held a roundtable discussion with local veterans in California's 1st Congressional District. Thompson shared a letter from Brigadier General Allison A. Hickey, detailing the improvements that will be made at the VA Oakland Regional Office. The Oakland office is one of the slowest regional offices in the nation for claims processing.
“It is unacceptable that our veterans have to wait so long to receive the benefits they have earned,” said Thompson. “We have a responsibility as a nation to do better, and I look forward to working with the new leaders at the regional VA office in Oakland to make sure veterans’ claims are processed in a timely manner.”
According to the Oakland office’s statistics, Oakland has 30,765 pending disability claims. On average, the wait time on these claims is more than 263 days, 50 days longer than the national average. Of those disability claims, more than 9,200 have been pending for more than a year.
Last month Thompson met with Hickey, to express his concerns about the Oakland office. Hickey, the Under Secretary for Benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs, is responsible for overseeing all non medical benefits and services provided to veterans and their families, including all operations at the VA Oakland Regional Office.
A full copy of the letter is below.
THE UNDER SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS FOR BENEFITS
WASHINGTON D.C. 20420
The Honorable Mike Thompson
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington D.C. 20515
Thank you for your concern for the California Veterans and their families who are experiencing long delays in the processing of their claims as a result of workload and performance issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Office (RO) in Oakland. We share your concern and are taking aggressive action to improve the performance of the Oakland RO. A similar response is being sent to Congressman Herger.
During our meeting on March 27, 2012, I briefed you, your staff, and other members of the Northern California Delegation on the several actions I directed to improve performance at the Oakland RO. This letter lists the elements of the plan to improve services delivery that we began implementing at the Oakland RO on March 27th. Our goal is to achieve significant improvements in the quality and timeliness of claims processing. We have also made it a priority to enhance our communications with congressional stakeholders.
The performance improvement plan includes the following:
• Implementing “Challenge” training for the entire regional office in June 2012 to improve employee skill levels and decision quality. Mr. Thomas Murphy, Director of the Compensation Service, will schedule experienced trainers to lead the RO through intensive Challenge training using nationally developed training curricula. This is a major undertaking and a step never executed before – to retain an entire RO.
• The Western Area Director. Mr. Willie C. Clark, Sr., will work from the Oakland RO for the next several months to oversee the execution of the improvement plan and mentor the new RO leadership team.
• In addition to technical training, the RO will receive team training, supervisory training, and communications training. Utilizing these types of curricula will sharpen focus and improve cooperation and cohesion to achieve mission requirements.
• The RO shifted 27 employees to the Rating Veterans Service Representative position and four employees to the Decision Review Officer position to increase the number of employees assigned to its congressional liaison staff in order to improve service and responsiveness to congressional inquiries.
• As part of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Transformation plan, the new Simplified Notification Letter process (SNL) was recently implemented at the RO. The SNL initiative allows decision makers to prepare decisions using simpler language and more concise text, resulting in increased productivity and easier-to-understand decision documents with a higher level of quality and consistency.
• The RO also established a Quality Review Team, another national Transformation initiative that provides for in-process quality reviews to eliminate errors at the earliest possible stage of the claims process.
• The RO is receiving brokering assistance from other VA regional offices to reduce the pending claims inventory. Specifically, new claims and ready-for-decision claims are being sent to regional offices in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Muskogee, Oklahoma, fore processing. This effort began in March 2012. We will establish points of contact at these other regional offices for your staff to call and check on the status of your constituents’ claims.
• The new Oakland RO Director, Mr. Douglas Bragg, will engage in face-to-face discussions with each of the 21 Northern California congressional district offices over the coming months. Mr. Willie Clark, the Western Area Director, will participate in many of these visits. These visits will introduce the station’s leadership team (which will shortly include the new Assistant Director, whose appointment is in the final stages of processing) to congressional stakeholders. They will provide opportunities to address individual and overall service-delivery issues. Mr. Bragg fully intended to begin these visits immediately after the March 27 meeting. Sadly, he unexpectedly experienced the loss of his daughter. Due to family bereavement and burial needs over these last 2 to 3 week, he has not been able to begin these visits. Mr. Bragg and Mr. Clark will be available to begin these visits next week.
I am confident that the planned investments in employee training, management oversight, and additional resources focused on Oakland’s workload will improve the RO’s performance. Our efforts will be enhanced though continued information sharing and open communications with you and your staff. Thank you for your support.
Allison A. Hickey
Congressman Mike Thompson is proud to represent California’s 1st Congressional District, which includes the Counties of Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, and Yolo. He is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Rep. Thompson is also a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and sits on the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Wine Caucus.
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