VA initiative aims to improve communications with veterans

Veterans Relationship Management program to help vets access care, benefits and information

The Veterans Affairs Department debuted its new Veterans Relationship Management customer service initiative, a multiyear effort aimed at improving veterans’ interaction with the VA for access to care, information and benefits.

The multifaceted initiative includes improvements to telephone services at VA calling centers, as well as enhancements to VA’s year-old e-benefits website that offers veterans department information.

“Veterans Relationship Management will transform veterans’ interactions with VA by using innovative 21st-century technologies,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a news release dated Sept. 21.

By year’s end, the eight national call centers operated by the Veterans Benefits Administration, as well as several other VA call centers, should be delivering faster and better quality service, post-call quality reviews and recordings of calls, according to the release.

Those call centers have been criticized in recent for difficulties in delivering timely handling of calls and providing inaccurate information to the callers. In a May 2010 audit, it was found that a caller seeking help from a VA call center had only a 49 percent chance of reaching an agent and obtaining accurate information.

Under the new Veterans Relationship Management system, veterans are being promised a better experience when they contact the VA for assistance, including improved training for workers and more access to information for employees.

Another component of the system is the eBenefits website, which offers a single sign-on capability to both veterans and service members. Currently, eBenefits offers self-service access to military personnel records, VA home loan eligibility certificates and status information on compensation and pension claims.

Under the relationship management program, the e-benefits Web site will feature enhanced Web self-service tools and integrated desktop interfaces for VA representatives who deal with veterans online.

Although the VA has had a reputation of being bureaucratic and requiring “mountains of forms” in the past, it is moving to upgrade its services on many fronts, said Peter Levin, chief technology officer for the VA, speaking at the Gov 2.0 Summit on Sept. 8.

One aspect is to offer VA staffers more and better access to VA benefits databases so that they can answer questions on the phone more efficiently, Levin said. Another is to continue adding functionality to the eBenefits website, he added.

“Doing this with Web-enabled services is a much better way of providing service,” Levin said.

In related news, in June, the VA hired a team led by High Performance Technologies Inc. to help evaluate and monitor the veterans relationship management program on a five-year contract valued at up to $115 million.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Wed, Sep 29, 2010 Notorious Kelly Arizona

You navigate the menu only to hear that they're too busy to take your call; try again later. I've had much better results using the IRIS system. Search for IRIS VA and choose Ask a question.

Mon, Sep 27, 2010 Francis A. Wright Copperas Cove, TX 76522

What I want to know is why my service doesn't count. I make to much money, I don't have service connected disability. But what I do have is a need for some assistance,ie; finding a friendly dentist to help a vet with his teeth. Seems like a Hot War Vet gets better care than a Cold War Vet. Defeated the Russians and it counts for nothing. I'm at the point now that I might as well just get a apir of vise grips & pull my own teeth.

Mon, Sep 27, 2010

VA - please work on providing information on status of claims and questions without waiting for veterans to call. Be proactive, and send the updates weekly by e-mail, text, etc, so veterans don't have to call to see if there is a change. The self service website changes are good, but go beyond that and give so much information there is no reason to call.

Fri, Sep 24, 2010 Boise, Idaho

I always had excellent service and care until my doctor moved and I was switched to another team. I was appalled at how these people speak to veterans. I am a disabled vet, and considerably younger than most of the vets at the VA and it was embarrassing how these people talk to these elderly vets.

Fri, Sep 24, 2010 san diego

on July 8, i put in for adjustment on my pension since i do not rec worker compensation any more and everytime i called they call center tell me it is being process. why would it take 3 months to adjust a claim that is already in order. i would like to see one of the call center rep trying to live on 375.00 a month.

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