Veterans

April 3, 2012

VA on track to break claims backlog

by Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki says VA is on track toward meeting one of the top priorities he set on arrival at the department three years ago: breaking the back of the disability claims backlog.

VA spent the last two years creating an automated tool to make claims determinations faster and more accurate, he said.

“Our intent is to have no claim over 125 days,” Shinseki told American Forces Press Service. “And every claims decision that we put out the door [will be] at a 98-percent quality mark.”

Toward that end, VA has been testing the new Veterans Benefit Management System in Providence, R.I., and Salt Lake City. Shinseki told Congress last month he believes this technology is helping VA “approach the tipping point in ending the backlog in disability claims.”

He stopped by the Salt Lake City office last week to assess progress there as the department prepares to take the system nationwide beginning this fall. The rollout will begin at 16 regional offices in September, with all 56 VA regional offices to receive it by the end of fiscal 2013, Shinseki said.

This advance is expected to go a long way in helping VA reduce the time veterans must wait for disability claims decisions, the secretary said.

“We know we can do it manually,” Shinseki said. “But we plan to layer this automation tool on top of that, and have the people who did the manual work now armed with an automation tool. I think we will be able to improve our productivity in ways that we will be able to take that backlog down quickly.”

Shinseki noted the monumental challenge VA has been up against. During 2009, VA produced 900,000 claims decisions, but also received 1 million new claims. The next year, VA increased its claims decisions to 1 million, but received 1.2 million new claims.

“Last year, we produced another 1 million claims decisions and got 1.3 million claims in,” Shinseki said. “So the backlog isn’t static. The backlog is a bigger number than we would like, but it is not the same number as three years ago.”

Once the automated system is in place, Shinseki said, he believes the 125-day, 98-percent accuracy goals he set are achievable. “There is a lot on the line here,” he said. “And that is why this rollout in September is an important one.”

His confidence, he said, comes from the successes he’s seen automation bring to VA’s processing of Post-9/11 GI Bill claims.

Shinseki recalled arriving at VA in 2009 just as the new program was being launched and having to implement it on the fly, with no automation tools. Within about nine months, he said, VA was able to prepare the manual process of getting about 173,000 people into schools by the fall 2009 term.

“It was pretty rocky,” he acknowledged.

But today, with the process now automated, VA is able to process more than 600,000 Post-9/11 GI Bill claims faster, and with fewer mistakes, the secretary said. That experience demonstrated the importance of keeping manual processing going as automation is being rolled in, then gradually moving all the processes toward automation, he added.

“The lessons we got out of that were tremendously important,” he said. “It educated our efforts with the automation tool for the [disability] claims process, and we are doing the same things, step-by-step, that we learned how to do through with the [Post-9/11 GI Bill].”

The new system is just one initiative VA has taken to break the claims backlog.

Another effort focuses on fundamentally changing the relationship between veterans and VA, making VA an advocate in putting together a strong claims package. VA began giving veterans a checklist of what’s needed to file a claim, and also did its own digging to produce whatever documentation veterans couldn’t find. This effort reduces the time needed to put a claims package together.

Another pilot program focuses on making claims processing more efficient by simplifying the process and improving communication among the entities that process a claim to reduce procedural delays, the secretary said.

Shinseki said he wanted to focus on getting the bugs out of the claims process before increasing automation.

“We didn’t want to automate bad processes and just get lousy decisions faster,” he told a Paralyzed Veterans of America gathering. “So we broke the complex, convoluted claims process down into its component pieces to improve each part before putting them back together.”




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Hagel orders overhaul of POW/MIA identification agencies

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced March 31 that he’s ordered an overhaul of the Pentagon agencies responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of America’s war dead. The reorganization seeks to consolidate the mission, improve efficiency and increase the number of remains identified by the two key agencies charged with POW-MIA accounting efforts — the...
 
 

Half of vets on G.I. Bill graduate, report estimates

A little more than half of the veterans who got college money under the GI Bill since 2009 eventually graduated, though many took longer to do it, a new study estimates. The report released March 214 estimated that 51.7 percent of student veterans earned a degree or certificate for some kind of higher education. That’s...
 
 

Veterans unemployment rate dropped in 2013

The unemployment rate for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans dropped in 2013, according to Labor Department statistics announced March 20. The unemployment rate fell to 9 percent last year for veterans who served on active duty since September 2001. The jobless rate for all veterans also edged down to 6.6 percent. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez...
 

 

Soldier missing from Vietnam War accounted for

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced March 18 that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from the Vietnam War, were recently accounted for and will be buried in a group burial ceremony. Army SSgt. Lawrence Woods of Clarksville, Tenn., will be buried as part of group on March 21, at Arlington National...
 
 

Care, benefits for vets strengthened by $164 billion VA budget

Continuing the transformation of the Department of Veterans Affairs into a 21st century organization, the president has proposed a $163.9 billion budget, a 6.5 percent increase over fiscal year 2014, that will support VAís goals to expand access to health care and other benefits, eliminate the disability claims backlog, and end homelessness among veterans. The...
 
 

Upcoming reunions

April 2-6 15th Med Bn 1st Cav Div. Orlando, Fla. For more information about this reunion, contact Leo Williams at (407) 277-5763 or email dragin52@hotmail.com.   April 3-5 4th Bn 39th Inf Rgt 9th Inf Div (Vietnam, 1966-1969) San Antonio, Texas For more information about this reunion, contact Jim Haines at (303) 809-1815 or email...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>