VA enables quick payout

The Department of Veterans Affairs has patched together a system to carry out a top-level mandate that life insurance benefits for soldiers killed in the war in Iraq be paid out within 24 hours.

The system, which involves modern technology and old-fashioned faxes, paid the first death benefit to the family of a Marine killed in the war March 25, four days after his death.

As of March 27, the program has paid benefits to the families of seven servicemen who died in the first week of the conflict.

"When there are tragic or high-profile situations such as Operation Iraqi Freedom, we take some extra pains," said Stephen Wurtz, chief of the VA's insurance service program in Philadelphia. "We have excellent lines of communication. We have tight control of the claims and the process."

The process is initiated with old technology, when the military faxes the insurance carrier, Prudential Insurance Co. of America.

But at that point, with the new system, Prudential's Office of Service Members Group Life Insurance can tap directly into the Defense Enrollment and Eligibility Reporting System to verify the eligibility of beneficiaries, rather than requesting and waiting for verification from the Defense Department.

Prudential is in the process of switching to an imaging system that will make the process even faster, said Chuck Strang, director of Prudential's Office of Service Members Group Life Insurance.

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