VA Secretary, David Shulkin, is calling for a new way of thinking about veterans’ benefits. “I want to see an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders about rationalizing veterans’ benefits—a veteran benefit advisory board that can bring clarity to what we’re trying to do for our veterans and what’s best, and how we can do that in the best way,” Shulkin said.
This new advisory board will help VA focus on key aspects of Veterans Benefits Administration programs, such as providing financial security for those who are severely disabled, providing mental and physical well-being to veterans, offering economic and professional opportunities, and helping them reintegrate back into civilian life.
“We need more incentives for achieving wellness and independence,” Shulkin said. “This should be a system that focuses on veterans’ abilities, not on their disabilities. VA needs to transform into an organization where we are veteran advocates and we facilitate them getting benefits, not being the gatekeeper of benefits decisions.”
He went on to say, “Let me be clear though, this isn’t about taking away benefits from veterans. This is about making benefits work better for veterans and transforming the Department of Veterans Affairs to do better for years and for generations of future veterans. I think they deserve no less than that.”
He believes veterans’ benefits is an area the department can do better in and they need to have a far less complicated system in place. He also said the whole benefits program has never received a full systematic review.
“The system, it appears to me, puts VA in an adversarial relationship with veterans, where they have to come to us and ask, rather than we are trying to help them.”
Mandatory VA spending for benefits has increased by more than $80 billion over the past 30-40 years; $13.7 billion in 1980 to $95.3 billion in 2017. Prior to 2004, military veterans couldn’t receive DOD retirement benefits and VA Disability compensation at the same time. By 2013, 59,000 DOD retirees received concurrent benefits, along with Social Security, totaling more than $35 billion. Administrative costs have also risen. In 2000, the cost was $1 billion; now, $5 billion.
“We have to make simpler benefit determinations,” he said. “Frankly, we’re spending too much on admin costs and we have to let veterans know what they can expect. They shouldn’t have to constantly be refilling claims to get what they deserve. We must emphasize service-connection disabilities, so we aren’t compensating veterans for age-related issues. We have to focus benefits on enabling independence, so veterans can succeed on their own because that’s what I think leads towards feeling a sense of well-being.”
The department has started implementing changes. They recently launched the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP), which will let veterans choose from several paths to resolve pending claims. The goal of this program is to give veterans the earliest possible resolution of their pending claims with the VBA.
Later this month, the department will begin making VA benefit determinations for military members on the day they leave service.
In the future, he wants VA to make instant decisions, like the way we can check our credit scores immediately.