VBA looks to move away from mandatory overtime to reduce burnout

VA is delivering more benefits to more veterans than at any point in its history and taking steps to ensure its benefits workforce can keep up with the pace.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is delivering more benefits to more veterans than at any point in its history.

It’s also taking steps to ensure its benefits workforce can keep up with the pace of this work.

VA announced Tuesday it processed its one millionth veteran benefits claim in fiscal 2024 — reaching that milestone six weeks earlier than it did last year.

The Veterans Benefits Administration, so far this year, has processed 35% more claims than during the same period last year.

Between October 2023 and February 2024, VBA has provided $69 billion in benefits to 6.5 million veterans and their survivors.

Veterans are also applying for benefits at record rates. VA received 4.5% more claims so far this year than in the same period in 2023.

Since President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act in August 2022, veterans and their families have filed more than 3.5 million claims.

The legislation expands VA health care and benefits eligibility for veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service

To keep up with this workload, the Veterans Benefits Administration is asking Congress to nearly double its overtime budget for fiscal 2025.

But Undersecretary for Benefits Joshua Jacobs says VBA is looking to move away from mandatory overtime, in an effort to reduce employee burnout.

“We are working very hard to move away from mandatory overtime. I don’t think it is sustainable in the long term,” Jacobs told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re actively considering options that will allow us to achieve our primary mission, which is delivering timely, high-quality and equitable decisions for veterans and their survivors, while also ensuring that our workforce can do that sustainably in the long term.”

VBA officials said last November that most employees are expected to complete 20 hours of mandatory overtime each month.

The agency has carved out two “respite periods” – four weeks during the summer, and four weeks in December and January – where employees are exempt from mandatory overtime requirements. VBA employees with disabilities, officials added, are also exempt from the mandatory overtime requirements.

Jacobs added that VBA is looking to “provide a more focused application of that overtime, that isn’t as expansive and prevalent as it has been in the last several years.”

“We have to balance that requirement to both grow and use overtime, with the need to make sure we’re taking care of our people. Over the last several years, we’ve been asking more and more and more of our employees.”

VA processed 221,592 disability compensation and pension claims during January 2024. That’s its most productive month of claims processing, breaking a previous record from May 2023

VBA processed nearly 2 million disability benefits claims from veterans and their survivors — a nearly 16% increase from the year prior — but is expected to break that record again this year.

“The reason we’re delivering more benefits to more veterans than ever before is because we have hired significantly,” Jacobs said. So as we think about our ability to deliver timely, accurate and equitable decisions, the major driver of our ability to do so is our people.”

VBA grew its workforce by 20% last year, to a 32,000-employee workforce, and plans to keep growing its headcount this year. More than half of the VBA workforce are veterans.

VBA providing record level of benefits to women vets

VBA is also delivering a record number of disability compensation benefits to women veterans.

More than 700,000 women veterans are receiving disability compensation benefits from the VA – a more than 25% increase compared to five years ago.

Women veterans are the fastest-growing cohort at the VA. Women veterans make up 16.5% of the veteran population, but received 27.5% of post-9/11 education benefits and 26.4% of veteran readiness and employment benefits last year.

“These historic statistics are a direct result of our concerted efforts to bring women veterans to VA, to encourage them to apply for the benefits that they’ve earned. And to build a VA that meets women veterans where they are, rather than asking them to come to us,” Jacobs said.

The average woman veteran who receives disability compensation benefits from VA has a 68% combined disability rating, and receive an average of $26,809 in earned disability compensation benefits per year from VA.

The average grant rate for women veterans is 89.2%. That means 89% of women veterans who have applied for disability benefits with VA have received benefits for at least one condition.

Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tanya Bradsher, VA’s first woman veteran deputy secretary, said in a statement that “these record numbers demonstrate that we’ve made tremendous progress in recent years, but they are still just the beginning – we won’t rest until every woman veteran is coming to VA.”

VBA is also scaling up its resources to handle Military Sexual Trauma (MST) claims. Jacobs said the agency has doubled the number of women veterans who are applying for these benefits and reduced average processing times by 13 days.

VBA, he added, has added 100 staff members as “temporary surge support” to help process more MST claims, and that the agency’s MST Operation Center have added more full-time employees. VBA is also providing more training to MST claims processors.

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