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Research Questions

  1. How does the overall quality of RC activation data differ across the seven RCs?
  2. How frequently do RC activation data errors occur?
  3. What are the causes of activation data errors in each RC?
  4. What effect do these data errors have on RC member benefits?

To correctly provide benefits to reserve component (RC) members, activations must be reported accurately. In this report, the authors quantify the frequency of errors in RC activation data and estimate the potential impact of these errors on RC member benefits, including U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation, qualification for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and eligibility for TRICARE.

The impetus for this study was a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and VA working group on information-sharing that identified multiple data errors associated with activation timing and duration, resulting in potential errors in the delivery of benefits to veterans, including underpayments and overpayments of VA disability benefits. Through data analysis and information obtained via subject-matter expert discussions, the authors discuss the potential sources of each type of error and provide recommendations to mitigate these errors in the future.

Key Findings

Two components stood out for having discrepancies in their data

  • The Army National Guard underreported days served for the majority of its members. The median Army National Guard member had 15 days paid that were not reported in the Defense Manpower Data Center's (DMDC's) Guard and Reserve Active Service (GRAS) file; the average was 18 days.
  • The Coast Guard Reserve overreported active service for most members, by about 12 days on average. Overreporting can occur when GRAS segments are not closed on time, so the service member appears to remain activated when they are not, and the pay file does not reflect those “extra” days because they were not paid out.

Except for misreported segments, known data errors are rare

  • Of more than 7 million segments analyzed, there were about 2.1 million misreported (i.e., missing or categorized under the wrong code) annual training or initial active duty for training segments.
  • For all five types of errors analyzed, the majority were attributable to activations in the Army National Guard.

Data errors affect benefits

  • Estimates of the impact on improper VA disability compensation payments suggest that RC activation data errors caused a net total of about half a million active duty days to be underreported each year, resulting in a minimum of $11.2 million in benefits overpaid each year since 2015.
  • Overpayment leads to recoupment by reducing the size of benefit payments in subsequent months and increases the paperwork burden for VA and the service member.

Recommendations

  • Components should adjust their reporting procedures to report all active duty segments. This step would eliminate the problem of missing data, which is the most common error documented in this report.
  • DoD and components should improve or standardize data validation checks to reduce errors and data quality differences across components.
  • DMDC should ensure that data systems are synced in the proper order to reduce personnel file errors.
  • Components should ensure proper use of edit transaction codes. This step would reduce errors caused by cancellations and corrections and eliminate delays in corrections being incorporated into the GRAS file.
  • DoD could consider implementing a standardized policy on placeholder end dates and the automatic termination of segments as of the projected end date for certain project codes. This would ensure that open-ended activations are treated equally across components.
  • DMDC and components could establish data-sharing agreements to increase the components’ ability to identify and resolve personnel file errors before delivering data to DMDC.
  • Components could build validation checks for segment length to eliminate "negative length" segments.
  • Components could more effectively track deployed Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) personnel and reinitiate AGR segments after deployment ends. This step would eliminate delays in reinstating AGRs' benefits after deployments end.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Personnel, Readiness, and Health Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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