VA's digital benefits system closes in on 1M claims

Department credits a fully deployed computer system with helping make a sizable dent in the department’s disability claims backlog.

Alison Hickey.

Department of Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it is chipping away at its backlog of disability claims, thanks in part to the nationwide rollout of the Veterans Benefits Management System.

The tool gives VA's small army of 29,000 claims processors access to digitized and electronic medical records and other documents necessary to speedily complete their work.

"Sometimes the federal government is known for not always delivering on IT systems in particularly good ways, but I think this is a huge success story," said Allison Hickey, VA undersecretary for benefits, at a briefing and demo for reporters held in the Veterans Benefits Administration's downtown D.C. headquarters Oct. 30.

According to VA officials, the backlog of claims (defined as any claim that is older than 125 days) has dropped from 611,000 in March 2013 to 244,000 this month -- a drop of 60 percent. VBMS itself has been used to process 888,000 claims, and VA officials expect that number to hit 1 million sometime in mid-November.

"This system, on top of restructuring our complete training program, has been instrumental in getting us there," Hickey said.

Digitized, not digital

VBMS is a back-office system that collects and maintains data submitted by veterans through the eBenefits portal and through the Stakeholder Enterprise Portal, used by veterans' groups that assist members in making claims.

Moving from paper to electronic claims processing is a significant time saver for staff, according to the benefits analyst who led the tour of the system. Before VBMS, analysts did their work with a rubber thumb tip, to page through case files that numbered into the hundreds of pages, in search of diagnostic information or other data essential to deciding a case. The VBMS now allows users to perform keyword searches to hone in on needed information.

But it makes sense to think of VBMS as a digitized system, rather than a digital system. It is based on documents more than data, there is no common data dictionary to tag documents that is in wide use, and data isn't portable directly to other systems.

The VBMS communicates with the VA's electronic health record system VistA (for Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture) using an intermediate system called the Compensation and Pension Records Interchange. Data from VistA is ingested electronically, not through document scans. Additionally, VA physicians can access VBMS to add or review documentation.

A Capitol Hill staffer who tracks VA issues cautioned against giving too much credit to VBMS for reducing the backlog, noting that mandatory overtime, new production standards and other factors have contributed as well. The staffer also noted that an inspector general probe turned up evidence of data manipulation in disability claim backlog in the Philadelphia Regional Benefits Office. "All the department's statistics in this regard should be taken with an enormous grain of salt," the staffer said.

So far, more than 1 billion documents have been scanned into the system -- enough to fill 81 C-5 cargo planes, according to VA estimates. The original documents are being stored onsite with vendors where scanning is performed. The VA and the National Archive and Records Administration have teamed up to establish policy to secure the trove of old paper case files, which are in the custody of contractors who do the scanning.

'We should be trusted'

Officials credit the agile development model with helping to bring VBMS online.

It was launched on a limited basis at the end of fiscal 2012 at five regional offices. As of June 2013 the system was rolled out to all 56 VA regional offices, and today it is universally used across VA at 148 VHA facilities and by Veterans Service Organizations.

Still, fewer than half of veterans initiate claims using online systems -- a percentage that VA is hoping will grow as the eBenefits and other end-user access points become more widely known and trusted.

The Board of Veteran's Appeals accesses VBMS, but the appeals process itself is not handled online.

Hickey said the VA is "working to bring technology into the appeals process like we did in the claims process." Expanding IT services costs money, and Hickey bemoaned the relatively lowly status of VA's IT budget -- near the bottom of all federal agencies on a per capita basis.

"When we build things, we build them right," Hickey said. "And we should be trusted with a bigger and better IT budget to do more of this for our nation's veterans, and be able to deliver even better on our timeliness on our quality across the board at all of VA"

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.