VA fiduciary management system is inadequate, GAO says

The Veterans Affairs Department's case management system for overseeing fiduciaries for 103,000 disabled veterans is not up to the job, the GAO says.

Limitations in the Veterans Affairs Department’s electronic fiduciary case management system limit the VA’s ability to capture key information to monitor the program, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The VA’s Fiduciary Beneficiary System (FBS) case management tool is cumbersome to use and “does not provide sufficient data to effectively manage the Fiduciary Program,” said Daniel Bertoni, director of education, workforce and income security at the GAO. He presented the GAO report to the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s panel on disability assistance and memorial affairs on April 22.

The VA appoints fiduciaries to manage pensions and other benefits for disabled veterans unable to handle their own finances. In 2008, fiduciaries managed an average annual benefit of $14,400 for each of 103,000 beneficiaries.

The VA and Congress for years have expressed concerns about the ability to monitor the fiduciary program. In the new report, auditors said FBS limitations, as well as insufficient training for VA staff members, are hurting the ability oversee the fiduciary program.

For example, FBS data fields are configured to track only a fixed number of variables, such as a single due date for an upcoming report. However, in some cases, multiple reports are due, resulting in data overrides. To compensate for this problem, VA staff members may manually track pending actions outside of the system or keep personal notes as reminder, the report said.

In addition, managers said the FBS requires cumbersome cross-referencing in some cases, and does not store needed historical information in a readily-available format.

“A 2007 internal VA report also stated that FBS requires extensive knowledge to use, which inhibits effective oversight and management at all levels of the program,” the report stated.

In response, VA officials agreed about the shortcomings of the FBS system and with the GAO’s recommendations to create a work group to determine the feasibility of enhancing FBS or developing a new case management system.

Belinda Finn, assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations at the VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), also testified about problems with the FBS system and with the fiduciary program on the whole.

“FBS has functional and data limitations that have severely affected management’s ability to use the system as a tool to support program operations effectively,” Finn said. “The Veterans Benefits Administration has not implemented upgrades to FBS to address system weaknesses identified both internally and by the OIG in previous reports.”

However, the benefits administration has initiated a study to analyze FBS functionality and determine whether it needs to be modified or replaced, she added.