Technology speeds VA effort to cut claims backlog
The Veterans Benefits Administration has put a new Web portal and support systems into place to speed up its claims processing and reduce an outstanding backlog of claims, Tom Murphy director of compensation service, testified at a congressional hearing.
The VBA is preparing to handle a huge influx of 1.3 million new claims in 2012 while also reducing its backlog of outstanding claims. Veterans Affairs Secretary Erik Shinseki has pledged to eliminate the backlog and process all outstanding claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy by 2015. The new claims are expected from several sources, including rising numbers of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, claims related to the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, and an increase in appeals.
“We are confident that we are on the right path to deliver more timely and accurate benefits decisions to our nation’s veterans,” Murphy told the House Veterans Affairs Committee at an April 18 hearing.
Among the tools being developed are a Stakeholder Enterprise Portal that will allow veterans to be more directly involved in the claims process. The system is a secure environment with identity access protections.
Using the new portal, veterans will be able to complete several forms online, including forms to appoint a representative and to apply for compensation, Murphy said.
The VA also is working with claims representatives to implement the Fully Developed Claims initiative, a pilot project authorized under a 2008 law, Murphy said. The project tested for a year whether it is feasible to process fully-developed claims for compensation or pensions within 90 days. Based on favorable results from that test, the department has expanded the program to several regions.
“Claims representatives are critical to the FDC initiative as they assist in gathering supporting evidence for a disability claim and helping the veteran to certify that no additional evidence is necessary to make a decision on the claim,” Murphy said.
The department also is offering training online members of Veterans Service Organizations to help veterans file claims. To date, more than 4,100 service organization representatives have registered for the training online course, and 3,385 representatives have completed the course and passed the final exam.
Despite those initiatives, veterans’ representatives who appeared at the hearing said getting rid of the backlog should not be the only priority. Jeffrey Hall, assistant national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, said reforms ought to go deeper.
“While the elimination of the backlog will be a welcome milestone, we must remember that eliminating the backlog is not necessarily the same goal as reforming the claims processing system, nor does it guarantee that veterans are better served,” Hall said. “The backlog is a symptom, not the root cause. “
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.