In an Abrupt Move, the VA is Eliminating its in-house Compensation and Pension Exam Program
Compensation and pension exams, commonly referred to as C&P exams, play a pivotal role in the determination of a given veteran’s eligibility for VA benefits. The VA’s announcement to outsource the entirety of these exams comes amidst a pandemic and a rapidly growing backlog of requests, which causes growing concerns for advocates and support groups.
Representative Elain Luria of Virginia voiced her concerns in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Tuesday, stating that the new plan was developed with no notice to Congress. “For many veterans, thorough and accurate C&P examinations are crucial to securing service-connected benefits,” she wrote. “VA’s quiet decision to carry out a major reorganization of its C&P program without a plan to make key improvements, reduce backlog, or retain employees is unlikely to deliver the high-quality results we expect.”
Luria is the head of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, a piece of the House Committee on Veteran’s affairs. Though originally led to believe that contracted examiners were going to supplement the existing program, the VA’s move in fact moves the entirety of the C&P program and 100% of the exams to the private sector.
“VA privately advised my staff of the decision after it was made, without a press release or communication to the affected veterans, advocates, or labor representatives,” Luria said. “Such a consequential decision should have been communicated directly to the chair and ranking member of this subcommittee and should not have moved forward during the turbulence of the pandemic.”
Luria mentions the turbulence of a pandemic, a pandemic that has not left the VA’s ability to work through their requests unscathed. Since suspending all exams in April, the VA’s backlog has grown to approximately 350,000 requests.
The importance of C&P exams cannot be understated. During the exams, health care providers determine whether his or her disabilities are connected to their time in service. The exam impacts each veteran’s disability rating which helps determine exactly how much monthly compensation the veteran is due.
Up until recently, contractors were responsible for performing about 60% of the exams. Yet, the quality and timeliness standards of exams carried out by contractors are not monitored by the Government Accountability Office. Herein lies the source of apprehension for advocates like Luria; the department’s lack of ability to oversee all of the contractors.
Asking for responses by November 16th, Luria has requested several pieces of information from Wilkie, including the number of C&P examiner jobs the VA would eliminate.