BALTIMORE, Md. – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin Barbara A. Mikulski and Barbara A. Mikulski (both D-Md.) today in a letter to U.S. Secretary for Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric K. Shinseki and Baltimore Regional Office Director Michael A. Scheibel called for the immediate dispatch of additional staff to the VA’s Baltimore Regional Office while all permanent claims processors and supervisors are undergoing comprehensive training to improve service and reduce errors and wait times.
The VA’s Baltimore Regional office is the worst performing regional office in the nation, both for length of time to process a claim and accuracy.
“We are happy that all claims processors and supervisors in the Baltimore Regional Office (BRO) are undergoing comprehensive training from April 8-May 3, 2013,” the Senators said in their letter. “However, we are concerned that there is not a suitable contingency plan in place to continue full-capacity operations at the BRO during this period. We request that additional claims processors be immediately dispatched to the Baltimore Office to ensure the continued processing of claims while permanent staff undergoes necessary training.”
In February, Senators Cardin and Mikulski called for an action and leadership plan to reduce the backlog of veterans’ disability claims. Secretary Shinseki then announced his plan to reduce the backlog in Baltimore and across the nation. The comprehensive training of permanent staff currently underway is a result of that plan. More information on Secretary Shinseki’s plan is available here.
Nationwide, 903,000 claims are pending with the VA with 587,352 of these claims being more than 125 days old. The average wait time to have a claim completed is 273 days, or more than nine months. This is in part due to a 63 percent increase in claims between 2005 and 2013. Additionally, claims are often more complex due to more complex injuries.
The problems are even worse at the VA’s Baltimore Regional Office where the average wait time is 332 days, or 11 months. In Baltimore, 84 percent of pending claims, or 16,767, are older than 125 days. The Baltimore Office also makes more errors with an error rate of 26.2 percent compared to 13.7 percent nationally.
The text of the letter follows:
Eric J. Shinseki
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Baltimore Regional Office
31 Hopkins Plaza
Dear Secretary Shinseki and Director Scheibel:
We are happy that all claims processors and supervisors in the Baltimore Regional Office (BRO) are undergoing comprehensive training from April 8-May 3, 2013. However, we are concerned that there is not a suitable contingency plan in place to continue full-capacity operations at the BRO during this period. We request that additional claims processors be immediately dispatched to the Baltimore Office to ensure the continued processing of claims while permanent staff undergoes necessary training.
Our staffs were informed by Director Sheibel on April 4, 2013 that there would be disruptions in service and limited staff available to handle pending claims during the four-week training period. While we appreciate that one staffer is still available to handle emergency matters, we have great concern about the impact that the disruption in service will have on the more than 16,767 pending claims that are more than 125 days old.
Maryland’s veterans are depending on your leadership to ensure that they get their claims processed in a timely and accurate manner. We look forward to continue to work together to ensure that the VA and the BRO have the resources they need to reduce the backlog and improve service. Comprehensive training of the staff in Baltimore is an excellent step in the right direction but must be paired with a fully functioning office.
We look forward to your prompt response to our request.