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VA Gets New Support To Tackle Paperless Claims

Agency gets Senate approval for more funds to reduce huge claims backlog, launches Web app so veterans can file online.
New York's 32-Story Data 'Fortress'
New York's 32-Story Data 'Fortress'
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The Senate Appropriations Committee this week approved a 10-point action plan and $20 million in additional funding to help the Department of Veterans Affairs eliminate a longstanding backlog of compensation claims. Part of the money will be used to upgrade servers and other hardware at regional offices as the VA moves toward its goal of deploying a paperless claims system.

The VA's goal is to install its paperless Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) in all 56 regional offices by the end of June. As part of the 10-point plan, the Senate will add another $10 million for overtime and training for claims processors as they put in more work hours to help eliminate backlog. The Board of Veterans Appeals will also receive $12.9 million to hire extra personnel.

Despite intense efforts to reduce the backlog of compensation claims for disabilities related to military service, the backlog continues to skyrocket at many VA offices. As of this month, the VA reported 816,839 pending claims, 66% of which have been pending for more than 125 days. Some regional offices have struggled more than others. At the VA's Baltimore office, for example, the average wait time is 11 months, and more than 80% of claims are older than 125 days, according to Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who has been working with the VA to reform the process.

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In April, the VA announced an initiative to expedite claims for veterans who have waited one year or longer for a decision. The VA said it would process 250,000 claims that are more than a year old within the next six months to help eligible veterans collect compensation benefits.

The agency implemented a Veterans Relationship Management (VRM) system to give call center agents a standardized way of viewing veterans' information. In an April interview with InformationWeek Government, VA director of VRM Maureen Ellenberger explained that in order to move off of legacy systems to process claims, VA had to create a centralized call center architecture. The agency rolled out Microsoft Dynamics CRM software to integrate access to its 13 different databases, which previously had to be individually queried.

For veterans filing claims, the VA launched eBenefits this week. The new Web application integrates with VBMS and allows claims to be filed electronically. Instead of filling out and mailing paper forms, veterans can use eBenefits to enter their information.

The VA compared the app to tax preparation software with pre-populated data fields and drop-down menus. The agency said it will still accept new claims in paper form, which will be scanned and uploaded into the VBMS for electronic processing.