Statement before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, on 'Why Are Veterans Waiting Years on Appeal?: A Review of the Post-Decision Process for Appealed Veterans’ Disability Benefits Claims'
11 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2013
Date Written: June 18, 2013
The fundamental challenge for the veterans benefits system today, including the appellate process, is system effects. That is the term academics use to describe the problem that occurs in large systems when the number of rules grows so large that the system stops producing the desired result, even though each individual rule can be defended as making a positive contribution to the goal. We have long passed the point of critical mass where the sum total is too complex for adjudicators at every level to keep straight, much less for untrained veterans to understand. A better appellate system – and a better adjudication system in general – needs to move away from trying to deal with millions of veterans with millions of rules, and instead focus on finding the smallest number of rules that will fulfill the goal of creating a truly veteran-friendly system that is capable of delivering timely and accurate results.
An improved appellate process needs to contribute to this paradigm shift. In a system suffering from system effects, there are no magic bullets. The problem of complexity can be solved only by dramatic change. Because the large number of rules is the central challenge, a great number of individual parts must be critically examined and streamlined. These are just a few suggestions that I have proposed in the past, and are just the beginning of a larger project that must include all the stakeholders. Most importantly, changes must be rigorously tested with real veterans to make sure that they understand and benefit from the system that is supposed to be friendly and paternalistic toward them. Everyone wants the system to provide better results, but at this point more rules increase delay, not quality. Less process and more effectiveness are the true answers.
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