Government, Soldiers, and Backlogs

Worldandnation: Backlog has veterans waiting for disability claims

Here is a sad case of bad flow, an imbalance in demand and capacity, and the impact it has on our country’s injured and disabled soldiers.

Nearly 400,000 disability claims were pending at the VA as of February, including 135,741 that exceeded the VA’s 160-day goal for processing them. The department takes six months, on average, to process a claim, and the waiting time for appeals averages nearly two years.

We can only guess what the “Value Added” time in that 160 days is. I’m sure it’s a very short process with amazingly long “waiting time” and queues.

The only thing that can solve the backlog is increased capacity (either through improving productivity in processing claims or adding people).

Little’s Law very much applies, where Cycle Time = WIP / Throughput

To reduce CT, you have to increase Throughput. With an expected increase of claims (from the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan), Cycle Time and WIP will only get worse if the VA can’t increase Throughput to 1) decrease the backlog and 2) meet new higher demand.

This strained system may grow more overburdened in years ahead as many of the troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan return from those wars, experts say.

Ronald R. Aument, VA deputy undersecretary for benefits, acknowledged that the department needs to do better, but he rejected the idea that the delays and denials are motivated by money concerns.

“It’s not as though we’re working on commission here,” he said. “There is very much a shared passion in this organization in trying to do right by veterans.”

It’s probably either 1) lack of funding or 2) gross waste in the existing processes, not any lack of effort or lack of caring on the VA’s part. Here’s an opportunity where Lean, or dare I say, “Office Lean” can help immensely. Instead of pointing fingers, let’s fix the process.


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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