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Daniel L. Nagin, Goals v. Deadlines: Notes on the VA Backlog, 10 U. Mass. L. Rev. 50 (2015).

Abstract: Drawing primarily on policy considerations, social science research, and the relevant statutory and doctrinal frameworks within veterans benefits law, this article argues that Congress should subject the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to a clear and enforceable deadline for making initial eligibility determinations on claims for service-connected compensation. Despite widespread media coverage of delays in VA’s adjudication system and countless oversight hearings and congressional proposals for reform, this simple idea – to impose a hard deadline upon VA has either been overlooked entirely or drowned out by a preoccupation with other types of legislative responses to the VA claims backlog. This article seeks to enter the debate about remedying the backlog from a slightly different vantage point than the perspectives used to date, one that focuses on the nature of deadlines – including the psychology of deadlines, the enforcement of deadlines, and the role deadlines might play in promoting perceptions of agency fairness and legitimacy. Along the way, the article draws on VA’s own data to reveal the long-standing gap between the agency’s timeliness goals and its performance. The reform proposed here is admittedly modest in many respects; it is far from a cure all for delay. But it does reflect certain fundamental values that should animate any reforms to the VA system: expanding enforcement tools, applying lessons learned from past VA failures, and treating veterans with dignity.