VA will use existing technology for new GI bill benefits

The Veterans Affairs Department will rely on existing computer systems that have been enhanced to process veterans’ benefits when a new education program becomes operational Aug. 1, senior VA officials said today at hearing of the Senate Veterans Committee. VA said that a more automated system will replace the current technology in December 2010, said Stephen Warren, VA’s acting assistant secretary for the Office of Information and Technology and chief information officer.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which President George W. Bush signed into law last year, is a new program to provide educational assistance to veterans, members of the National Guard and selected Reserves serving on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, the VA has said.

The new GI Bill is different from the current educational benefits program because it makes payments not only to the veteran but directly to the educational institution, said Keith Wilson, VA’s director of education service in the Veterans Benefit Administration and lead executive for the GI Bill program. VA also would make separate payments for tuition, housing allowance and books based on the hours of course work for which the veteran is enrolled and the geographic location of the school instead of one payment as is currently done, he said.

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic (SPAWAR) is developing VA’s system to process veterans’ education benefits, but it won’t be operational until December 2010, Warren said. The new system will be more automated based on business rules that have been incorporated in the technology than the current system, he said.

Besides a business rules engine, the new system will use data integration and a well-defined service-oriented architecture, he noted.

VA hired a consultant to review its plans and procedures for implementing the new education benefits program and validated the department’s approach in February, Warren said.

Because the new bill had different provisions, VA had to modify its existing Benefits Delivery Network system to be ready for the Aug. 1 start date and thereafter until the SPAWAR system replaces it, Wilson said.

“VA has modified this system, although aging, to support many of the changes in the benefit programs over the years, primarily because the single payment structure for the programs had not changed,” he said.

VA will use the existing benefits system to issue payments and a front end tool that VA claims examiners use to give them more capability when they manually determine the resolution of claims in VA’s central and regional processing offices, Wilson said.

To begin developing the new GI Bill system, the VA received $20 million in fiscal 2008 supplemental funds and an additional $35 million from its Veterans Benefits Administration general operating expenses, Warren said. The economic stimulus law also directs $48.5 million to implementation of the new education benefit process, he said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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