By JIM VINES
The Department of Veterans affairs announced Jan. 14th the nationwide transition to paperless processing of veterans disability claims at its regional benefits processing offices is under way.
As of December 2012, 18 VA regional offices have implemented the new system and are beginning to process newly received compensation claims in an entirely digital format. The VA is on track for full deployment of the system to the remaining 38 regional offices in 2013.
This marks a major milestone in the VA’s transformation of the processes and systems used to deliver benefits to veterans, their families, and survivors, even while the Veterans Benefits Administration has completed a record breaking 1 million claims per year the last three fiscal years. Critical to the VA’s transformation is ending the reliance on the outmoded paper intensive processes which prevent timely and accurate claims processing. The VA is deploying technology solutions which improve access, drive automation, reduce variance and enable faster and more efficient operations to eliminate the backlog.
The current backlog of claims is the result of increased demand, over a decade of war with many veterans returning with severe, complex injuries, and increased outreach to veterans informing them of their benefits. Secretary Eric Shinseki also made important decisions to recognize medical conditions related to Agent Orange service in Southeast Asia, and to simplify the process to file claims for combat PTSD. These decisions have expanded access to benefits for hundreds of thousands of veterans and has brought significantly more claims into the system.
The Veterans Benefits Management System was pilot tested at select regional offices between 2010 and 2012, with improvements and greater functionality added to system software releases throughout the resting period. In pilot programs, the new system cut the time to process claims nearly in half. The most recent version of VBMS software allows the VA claims representatives to:
• Establish veterans claims entirely in a digital environment as “e-folders.”
• Receive, store and view veterans submitted claim documents electronically.
• Identify and track the evidence the VA needs from beneficiaries and other outside sources.
• Quickly direct claims electronically among regional offices to better match the VA’s workload with available workforce capacity.
The system also enables the VA claims processors to access online rules-based calculators and drop-down menus, to enhance standardization and accuracy of decisions, for both electronic claims and those received by the VA in paper form and uploaded into VBMS. Processors will also use VBMS to generate letters to veterans concerning their claim status and send requests to private physicians for medical records needed to evaluate claims.
When VBMS is combined with the VA’s other transformation initiatives, including improved claims rater training, cross-functional claims handling teams, and prioritized lanes to speed processing based on the type of claim, the VA is positioned to meet priority goals set for processing veterans claims in 125 days or less, at 98 percent accuracy, by the end of 2015. For additional information visit www.benefts.va./transformation/.
Speak to you again next week.
Jim Vines is commander of AmVets Post 133.