Monday, September 29, 2014

Agency Resumes Mailing Social Security Statements


Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency will resume the periodic mailing of Social Security Statements—once every five years for most workers-- while encouraging everyone to create a secure my Social Security account to immediately access their Statement online, anytime. The Statement is a valuable financial planning tool providing workers age 18 and older with important individualized information regarding their earnings, tax contributions, and estimates for future retirement, disability, and survivors benefits.

“We have listened to our customers, advocates, and Congress; and renewing the mailing of the Statement reinforces our commitment to provide the public with an easy, efficient way to obtain an estimate of their future Social Security benefits,” Acting Commissioner Colvin said. “I encourage everyone to create their own secure my Social Security account to obtain immediate access to their Statement online, anytime.”

Beginning this month, workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 who are not receiving Social Security benefits and who are not registered for a my Social Security account will receive the Statement in the mail about 3 months before their birthday.  After age 60, people will receive a Statement every year.  The agency expects to send nearly 48 million Statements each year.

The Social Security Statement helps people plan for their financial future.  In addition to providing future benefit estimates, the Statement highlights a person’s complete earnings history, allowing workers to verify the accuracy of their earnings. This is important because an individual’s future benefit amount is determined by the amount of their earnings over their lifetime.  To date, more than 14 million people have established a personalized my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

With a my Social Security account, people may access the Statement from the comfort of their home, office or library whenever they choose. Individuals who currently receive benefits should sign up for a my Social Security account to manage their benefit payments and, when the need arises, get an instant benefit verification letter, change their address and phone number, and start or change direct deposit of their benefit payment.

Acting Commissioner Colvin reinforced that “whether conducting business with Social Security via the Internet, mail, telephone or face-to-face, we will continue to provide convenient, cost-effective, secure and quality customer service to meet the needs of the public we serve.”

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Social Security Board of Trustees: No Change in Projected Year of Trust Fund Reserve Depletion

The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds are projected to become depleted in 2033, unchanged from last year, with 77 percent of benefits still payable at that time. The DI Trust Fund will become depleted in 2016, also unchanged from last year's estimate, with 81 percent of benefits still payable.

In the 2014 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:

The combined trust fund reserves are still growing and will continue to do so through 2019. Beginning with 2020, the cost of the program is projected to exceed income.
The projected point at which the combined trust fund reserves will become depleted, if Congress does not act before then, comes in 2033 – the same as projected last year. At that time, there will be sufficient income coming in to pay 77 percent of scheduled benefits.
The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.88 percent of taxable payroll -- 0.16 percentage point larger than in last year's report.
"The projected depletion dates of the Social Security Trust Funds have not changed, and three-fourths of benefits would still be payable after depletion.  But the fact remains that Congress can ensure the long-term solvency of this vital program by taking action," said Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security.  "The Disability Insurance Trust Fund's projected depletion year remains 2016, and legislative action is needed as soon as possible to address this financial imbalance."

Other highlights of the Trustees Report include:

Income including interest to the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $855 billion in 2013. ($726 billion in net contributions, $21 billion from taxation of benefits, $103 billion in interest, and $5 billion in reimbursements from the General Fund of the Treasury—almost exclusively resulting from the 2012 payroll tax legislation)
Total expenditures from the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $823 billion in 2013.
Non-interest income fell below program costs in 2010 for the first time since 1983. Program costs are projected to exceed non-interest income throughout the remainder of the 75-year period.
The asset reserves of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $32 billion in 2013 to a total of $2.76 trillion.
During 2013, an estimated 163 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
Social Security paid benefits of $812 billion in calendar year 2013. There were about 58 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
The cost of $6.2 billion to administer the program in 2013 was a very low 0.7 percent of total expenditures.
The combined Trust Fund asset reserves earned interest at an effective annual rate of 3.8 percent in 2013.
The Board of Trustees is comprised of six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Jacob J. Lew, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security; Sylvia M. Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor. The two public trustees are Charles P. Blahous III and Robert D. Reischauer.

The 2014 Trustees Report will be posted at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2014/ on Monday.

Friday, August 08, 2014

VA Proposes Removal of Employees Who Manipulated Data

July 29, 2014 – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today proposed a series of disciplinary actions against six employees at Department facilities in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Fort Collins, Colo.  These actions are a part of VA’s effort to rebuild the trust of America’s Veterans.
“Employees who have been found to have manipulated data, withheld accurate information from their supervisors, and affected the timeliness of care Veterans receive do not reflect VA’s values, and their actions will not be tolerated,” said Acting Secretary Sloan D. Gibson. “VA must earn back the trust of Veterans.  Part of earning back that trust is holding people accountable when there is documented evidence of willful misconduct and management negligence.  We depend on the dedicated service of VA employees and leaders who live by our core values.  Those who have not delivered results honestly have and will be held accountable.”
Based on a review by the Inspector General and other Department investigations, VA today proposed disciplinary actions against six employees at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center and Fort Collins Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.
As a result of these findings, VA proposed disciplinary actions against the Director of the Rocky Mountain Network (VISN 19), and the Director and Chief of Staff of the Cheyenne VA Medical Center.
Certain supervisors in these facilities were found to have personally manipulated data, instructed their subordinates to manipulate data, and withheld accurate information from their superiors.  VA today proposed two of the supervisors be removed from Federal service.
Additional proposed penalties for other supervisors include two proposed suspensions, a demotion, and admonishments.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Veterans Benefits Administration Processes One Millionth Claim in FY 2014


July 14, 2014
Agency Expects to Process 1.3 Million by Year’s End
 The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has completed its one millionth disability claim in fiscal year 2014, and is on track to complete more than 1.3 million claims this year – ensuring that nearly 200,000 more Veterans will receive decisions on their disability claims than fiscal year 2013.  Since 2011, VBA has been implementing the largest transformation in its history, fundamentally redesigning and streamlining the way it provides benefits and services to Veterans, their families and survivors.
“VBA has made significant progress toward eliminating the backlog, but there is more work to be done to reach our goal of processing all disability claims within 125 days at a 98-percent accuracy level in 2015.” said Allison Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits. “VBA’s employees, half of whom are Veterans themselves, believe that Veterans should not have to wait for the benefits they have earned and deserve.  While we work to drive down the backlog of disability claims, we must also improve productivity on other categories of non-rating work.”
In the past four fiscal years, VA surpassed one million completed claims by the end of each year.  Passing the one-million mark this year in early July represents major progress in providing more Veterans and their family members with timely, accurate decisions.  VBA has reduced the claims backlog by more than 55 percent from its peak of 611,000 in March 2013 – and Veterans with pending claims have been waiting, on average, 128 fewer days for a decision on their claim.  At the same time, the accuracy of rating decisions continues to improve. VA’s national “claim-level” accuracy rate is currently 91 percent – an eight-percentage-point improvement since 2011.
These rating decisions often determine eligibility for other VA benefits and services, including non-rating claims, which are tracked and managed in other categories on the Monday Morning Workload Report.  These categories also have increased as more rating claims are completed, but VBA has not lost focus on non-rating work.  VBA has taken the following actions to automate and improve the timeliness and accuracy of non-rating claim decisions:
Online Dependency Claims – VBA developed a new Rules-Based Processing System (RBPS) to automate dependency claims.  Since inception, self-service features in RBPS have enabled over 75,000 Veterans to add or change the status of their dependents online.  Over 50 percent of the dependency claims filed through RBPS are now automatically processed and paid in 1-2 days.
Dependency Claims Contract – VA recently awarded a contract for assistance in entering data from paper-based dependency claims into VA’s electronic rules-based processing system.  The contractor is entering the information from the paper-based dependency claims just as a claimant would enter information if filing the claim online.  The contract calls for 40,000 dependency claims to be processed per month when operating at full capacity.  The contractor is currently ramping up to that capacity.
Up-front Income Verification for Pension – A new data-sharing initiative with the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service enables VBA to verify the income of pension applicants before awarding benefits and eliminates the annual income reporting requirement for pension beneficiaries.
Burial Claims – VBA published a new regulation, effective July 7, 2014, that allows automatic payment of the one-time burial allowance to a Veteran’s spouse without requiring the surviving spouse to apply for the benefit.  Under this new regulation, as many as 62,000 surviving spouses will now receive timely burial benefits each year.
Drill Pay Adjustments – Veterans cannot legally receive VA benefits and drill pay concurrently.  VBA is working to streamline and automate the drill pay offset process through an upfront agreement from National Guard and Reserve members.
National Call Center Initiative – Effective July 14, employees at the St. Louis and Phoenix National Call Centers are now also processing dependency claims.  The initiative begins on July 14 at the St. Louis and Phoenix Regional Offices and will be expanded to all of our Call Centers shortly thereafter.
Hiring Temporary Employees – VBA is in the process of hiring 200 temporary employees, who will be provided specialized training in processing the less complex non-rating claims and work actions.  
VBA posts data on the disability claims backlog, the non-rating workload, and other publicly available data on our performance on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis through our reports web site: www.vba.va.gov/reports.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

June 10, 2014

VA Meets With Healthcare Industry to Discuss Best Scheduling Practices
Kaiser, Gartner, Mayo Clinic to Share Insights on Access Innovation, Modernization

WASHINGTON – Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson today announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will meet with private healthcare industry leaders to discuss best practices and policies for scheduling patients.

“Our top priority is to get our Veterans off wait lists and into clinics,” said Acting Secretary Gibson.  “We need to continue to examine the best practices of healthcare systems across the country to find immediate solutions for timely delivery of quality healthcare.  VA must be at the forefront of access and innovation.  Our Veterans deserve nothing less.”

Today, VA officials will meet on state-of-the-art health care access with industry leaders including Kaiser Permanente, Gartner and Mayo Clinic.  Discussions will focus on improving Veteran access to quality health care and innovating measurement approaches to gauge short- and long-term access to care.  Topics will also include recommended strategies and tools to help managers and providers best serve Veterans and provide a consistent patient experience.

The above is a press release from the Veterans Administration.  As anyone who has been through the VA disability process knows often VA disability cases are delayed due to waiting on VA examinations.  Hopefully, with improvement in scheduling in the VA health system there will also be some improvement in VA disability wait times.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Disability Claims Backlog Reduced by 44 Percent

WASHINGTON – One year after the backlog of pending disability compensation claims peaked at over 611,000 in March 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has reduced that number by approximately 44 percent to 344,000 claims – a reduction of more than 267,000 – while at the same time improving the accuracy of the decisions being made on Veterans’ disability claims.  Additionally, on average, Veterans are waiting 119 days less for a decision than they were at this time last year.

“No Veteran should have to wait to receive earned benefits.  Through a combination of transformation initiatives and the hard work of our employees, we are making significant progress toward our goal of eliminating the claims backlog in 2015,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. “We still have more work to do, and no one is more committed than our Veterans Benefits Administration employees, over half of whom are Veterans themselves.”

The current backlog, defined as claims pending more than 125 days, is at its lowest point since March 2011, when the backlog spiked in part because of the need to readjudicate 150,000 previously decided cases involving exposure to the Vietnam-era defoliant, Agent Orange.  The readjudication of these claims was mandated under the Nehmer court decision and followed the Secretary’s decision to add ischemic heart disease, certain leukemias, and Parkinson's disease to the list of conditions presumed to be related to exposure to Agent Orange. During this same time period, VA also received and processed over 100,000 new claims for these three conditions from Vietnam Veterans and survivors newly eligible for VA benefits as a result of this decision.

“We knew taking care of this ‘unfinished business’ for Veterans of previous wars would initially drive up the number of claims in our system.  But it was the right thing to do,” said Secretary Shinseki.

Since establishing the goal in 2010 of processing all disability claims within 125 days at a 98-percent accuracy level, VA developed and is implementing a plan that transforms the decades-old, manual paper claim approach into a state-of-the-art electronic process that leverages digital data transfer and automated calculators to reduce processing time and input errors.

VA has also increased the productivity of its claims processing workforce through enhanced training, streamlined business processes and other initiatives such as mandating overtime and prioritizing the oldest claims, allowing VA’s 56 regional benefits offices to exceed monthly production records four times in fiscal year 2013.

At the same time, the accuracy of rating decisions continues to improve. VA’s national “claim-level” accuracy rate, determined by dividing the total number of cases that are error-free by the total number of cases reviewed, is currently 91 percent – an eight-percentage-point improvement since 2011.  When measuring the accuracy of rating individual medical conditions inside each claim, the three-month accuracy level is 96.5 percent.  VA’s accuracy measures are statistically valid and the process has been independently verified by the Institute for Defense Analyses.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

VA Removes Annual Income Reporting Requirement

March 24, 2014 – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is eliminating the annual requirement for most Veterans enrolled in VA’s health care system to report income information beginning in March 2014. Instead, VA will automatically match income information obtained from the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration.
“Eliminating the requirement for annual income reporting makes our health care benefits easier for Veterans to obtain,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “This change will reduce the burden on Veterans, improve customer service and make it much easier for Veterans to keep their health care eligibility up-to-date.”
Some Veterans applying for enrollment for the first time are still required to submit income information. There is no change in VA’s long-standing policy to provide no-cost care to indigent Veterans, Veterans with catastrophic medical conditions, Veterans with a disability rating of 50 percent or higher, or for conditions that are officially rated as “service-connected.”
VA encourages Veterans to continue to use the health benefits renewal form to report changes in their personal information, such as address, phone numbers, dependents, next of kin, income and health insurance.