"It was a very rapid stand-up; we did not do it as well as we should have," Hickey said. "We take responsibility for that. We did it in order to address the needs immediately. As a result, the system could not handle the big surge we put on it."

The VA has taken responsibility for that system from the Baltimore office and moved it to Providence, R.I., freeing the 35 employees who now are working on Maryland claims.

Hickey said plans to improve performance in Baltimore have been under way for about a year. She said they include hiring a new director and assistant director.

Other measures include a new processing model that categorizes claims based on their complexity and refresher training for the Baltimore staff scheduled for April. The implementation of a new digital processing system planned for November was bumped up to June.

Hickey said the country's "very best inventory manager and coach" will arrive in Baltimore this week and stay two months to redesign the work flow.

Hickey said the efforts to improve performance in Baltimore are not expected to have a negative impact on the VA's other 55 regional offices.

Verna Jones, director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation with the American Legion, said the organization hopes the changes under way in Baltimore will better serve Maryland veterans, many of whom wait years for benefits.

The American Legion plans to conduct a quality assessment review in Baltimore in the coming weeks.

"We're going to wait and see," Jones said. "We're happy the VA recognizes that this is a problem and that they're doing something. We have no way of knowing what's going to happen. We're hopeful because our veterans deserve the best we can give them."

ywenger@baltsun.com

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