Every year Social Security gets just a little further behind in giving the disabled their “day in court.” It is very hard, as a lawyer and officer of the court, to explain to clients why the wait is so long. The short answer is a lack of resources. Social Security has many claims to process and a limited number of staff to process those claims. Each case requires a very fact-intensive review and detailed decision to be issued. This takes human time and effort.
Larry Scott, also known under the name VAWatchdog, recently posted an excellent article by fellow NOVA (National Organization of Veteran’s Advocates, Inc.) member, and past President, Ted Jarvi describing how the Veterans Administration has similar delays and backlogs that stem from the fact that the veteran has deadlines – e.g., 60 days to appeal — but the agency has no deadline – e.g., to issue a decision. That pretty much sums it up and describes why Social Security also has such a backlog. Mr. Jarvi is an experienced veteran’s advocate and resource to other lawyers in NOVA. His article is reproduced for your review below:
WHY THE VA NEEDS DEADLINES FOR DISABILITY CLAIMS ADJUDICATIONS
By Ted Jarvi
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” — Parkinson’s Law
The reason the VA takes so much time to complete its appointed task of adjudicating veterans’ disability claims is because it HAS so much time to do so. As C. Northcote Parkinson pointed out, work expands so as to fill the time allotted to it. The VA’s corollary is, “When there is no time limit, the time allotted will expand indefinitely.”
The VA has a “crisis stage” claims adjudication backlog because VA employees have no accountability for completing their appointed work. Without deadlines, the work simply doesn’t get done. The VA has fallen heir to the embarrassing perception in the veteran community that the VA is “waiting for me to die.” The perception is repeated over and over by victims of this pernicious system of delay. Worse, there is no answer to the plaint other than a weak, “I don’t think that is really what’s going on.”
Parkinson’s law has lost none of its vitality since it was formulated in 1955. Today it represents the single most significant truth about the VA claims adjudication.
The easiest and most accurate measurement to be applied to VA adjudications would be one linked to the grant of benefits to a veteran. As long as there is no firm deadline for VA employees to get their adjudications completed, there can be no accurate measurement of the efficiency of the process.
Recent proposals for speeding up the adjudication process have included shortening the time period that a VETERAN has to object to a VA decision. This is perverse in the extreme, because it isn’t the vet who is causing the backlog. Veterans have deadlines already. If they don’t act within specified periods of time, their claim is over. Shortening the veteran’s deadline without addressing a deadline for the VA makes no sense. The root cause of delay is the VA, which takes months or years to complete adjudications and has no deadlines. Decade long adjudications aren’t unusual.
What should be enacted is a deadline date for the VA’s completion of both an original adjudication, and each stage of adjudication appeals. When the deadline is not met, there should be a presumptive grant of benefits to the claimant which can only be reversed with clear and unmistakable evidence.
One year to complete an adjudication, and six months to complete any appeal stage of an adjudication, are not unreasonable deadlines. Current law gives a veteran a year to appeal his adjudication the first time, and 60 days for a subsequent appeal, so it seems equitable that similar amounts of time should be allotted to the VA for its handling of the claim.
No one who has worked in a well run enterprise, either private or governmental, can deny that efficient managers will focus the energies of their operation on those elements of the business that cost it the most. When managers become aware of a this kind of a numerical measurement, and if their performance is linked to that measurement, neither hell nor high water will keep them from insuring that the measured process is brought under control.
The establishment of this kind of a deadline has a salutary effect above and beyond simple management principles. For the first time, the veteran claimant, and his/her family, advocates, and legislators will be able to point to a definite time when the case will either be over, or will move on to the next stage. Today there is no answer when the veteran asks, “When can I expect an outcome?” With VA deadlines there will be. The perception that the VA is just “waiting for me to die” will be obliterated.
As to the more measurable consequences of a VA deadline, the first will be a large number of benefit grants, which will strike observers as being very expensive. That alarm over program costs will then be channeled into a VA management focus on meeting the deadlines and avoiding automatic grants of benefits. All of the sudden, VA managers will have a clear and understandable measurement to work with. An adjudication that doesn’t get done within the deadline will turn all eyes on the person, or shop that failed, and cost the VA a “presumptive grant.”
Although there is doubtlessly some VA management focus on the subject of lengthy claims adjudications now, those efforts are not motivated by any deadlines, nor have VA managers shown the ability to establish internal, workable, consequences for offices having terrible backlogs. Despite promises and presidential expressions of concern, going back to pre-Clinton days, the backlog just keeps getting bigger. C. Northcote Parkinson would instantly recognize the problem. The imposition of deadlines will go a long ways toward resolving this shameful situation.
Parkinson’s Law: an adage first articulated by C. Northcote Parkinson as the first sentence of a essay published in The Economist magazine in 1955, and later popularized in a book, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress (London, John Murray, 1958). Ironically, Parkinson drew his lessons from extensive experience in the British Civil Service, suggesting parallels to the VA.