The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is one of three organizational elements within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). (The other two are the Veterans Health Administration and the National Cemetery Administration.) VBA is responsible for administering VA programs that provide financial and other nonmedical forms of assistance to veterans, their dependents and their survivors. Major benefits include veterans’ compensation, veterans’ pensions, survivors’ benefits, rehabilitation and employment assistance, education assistance, home loan guaranties, and life insurance coverage. With annual expenditures of more than $69 billion, VBA programs have a huge impact on veterans and their families as well as on the nation as a whole.
VBA’s mission is “to provide benefits and services to Veterans and their families in a responsive, timely, and compassionate manner in recognition of their service to the Nation.” It is divided into the following six services, five of which cover specific benefits programs (numbers in parentheses indicate the number of veterans and beneficiaries served by the service as of FY2011):
- Compensation and Pension Service, which provides direct payments to veterans, dependents and survivors as a result of the veteran’s service-connected disability or because of financial need (more than 4 million);
- Education Service, which provides resources to help veterans with readjustment issues and restore educational opportunities lost because of service to the country, as well as to extend benefits of higher education to qualified persons who may not otherwise be able to afford it (923,913);
- Insurance Service, which provides life insurance at a standard premium rate to members of the armed forces, who are able to maintain their VA life insurance after they are discharged (almost 7.1 million);
- Loan Guaranty Service, which helps veterans, certain spouses and service members to buy and retain homes (357,594 loans);
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service, which helps service members and veterans with service-connected disabilities prepare for, find and keep suitable jobs (116,295); and
- Benefits Assistance Service, which helps service members, veterans and their families and survivors obtain the benefits for which they are eligible.
While it has been roundly criticized for a longstanding backlog of disability compensation claims, VBA has hired more than 3,300 new employees since the beginning of FY2010 to address the significant increase in the number of claims being received. The administration has developed a comprehensive and integrated “Transformation Campaign Plan” to achieve its goal of eliminating the claims backlog and processing all claims at a 98 percent quality level by 2015. As part of this effort, it has instituted specialized training for all newly assigned claims-processing employees. A report released earlier this month indicates that VBA is increasing the productivity of its workforce.
VBA headquarters are located in the VA headquarters building at 810 Vermont Ave. N.W., in Washington, D.C. The administration has 56 regional offices, aligned under four area directors. Area headquarters are located in Detroit (Eastern); Nashville, Tenn. (Southern); Muskogee, Okla. (Central); and Phoenix (Western). Regional offices are located in every state except Wyoming and in the District of Columbia, the Philippines and Puerto Rico; New York, Pennsylvania and Texas each have two regional offices, while California has three. These offices typically are located in space leased by GSA on behalf of the VBA. The Phoenix regional office, for example, recently announced that it will expand its administrative functions into a second location starting January 1, 2013, when it will occupy about 25,400 square feet on two floors of the City Square mixed-use corporate center (in addition to its existing visitor services office nearby); GSA signed a ten-year lease for the space.