|by Sarah Schauerte|
As an attorney who focuses on helping veteran businesses receive their “verified” status from the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“VA”) Center for Verification and Evaluation (“CVE”), I’ve seen thee process change and evolve over the years. It has gotten noticeably better, especially since processes are now in place where a business can withdraw its application and immediately reapply, rather than experience the former unpleasant alternatives.
A Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) Report, which was released in March of 2016, investigated the VA’s progress with improving its verification process. In so doing, the GAO reviewed the VA’s verification procedures and strategic plan, reviewed a generalizable random sample of 96 verification applications, and interviewed various individuals involved with the process.
The verdict? The VA has improved its (relatively new) process, but it has a ways to go. Here are some highlights (and low points):
- Application processing times have decreased by more than 50% since October 2012 (from 85 days to 42 days). This does not include any time the clock is stopped while the CVE is waiting on information from a business owner, so the wait time is longer from a veteran perspective. Also, since firms can submit and withdraw their applications multiple times in order to correct issues, this lengthens the verification process for some firms.
- The CVE has put into place detailed written work instructions for conducting various verification activities, resulting in greater uniformity.
- The CVE has reduced its backlog on site visits, which means that more “high risk” firms are being investigated in a timely fashion.
- The VA has taken steps to improve communication with veterans, such as by reaching out via email and telephone after document requests.
- The readability level on determination letters ranges from a college sophomore to a college senior level, which may present some challenges in comprehension.
The GAO Report notes that in August of 2015, the VA began testing a restructured verification process, where each veteran business owner is assigned a case manager who serves as a point of contract throughout the process and allows veterans to communicate directly with the individual processing their application. The VA claims that this will not only help with communication, but it will save time because under the current four-stage process, eligibility issues are not flagged until later on in the process. The VA plans to fully transition to the new process by September of 2016, and has been consulting with focus groups to tweak its elements.
I, for one, will say that I’m not onboard with the new restructured process. While I think it’s great to only use one point of contact (veterans want to know who they’re dealing with), and main effect of this program I’ve seen is that applications are done piece-mail, ultimately causing some delay and creating more effort on behalf of the veterans. For example,, while a phone call to go over eligibility issues is helpful (which is what is also being done), the VA’s next step of sending the veteran an electronic request for this same information is redundant.
In its concluding remarks, the GAO Report found that the VA’s efforts to restructure the verification process, realign organizational structure, and acquire a new case-management system represent significant efforts for CVE’s team of 16 federal employees. However, these efforts lack a detailed operational plan to guide and integrate them with the VA’s strategic objectives. The agency has faced challenges with planning—both strategic and operational—and by putting plans in place to guide the program’s transformation, the VA could obtain reasonable assurance that these efforts will be properly sequenced, managed to completion, and help it accomplish its longer-term goals.
Access the full report here.
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