VA initiative aims to improve communications with veterans

The Veterans Affairs Department is taking a number of steps to maKe it easier for veterans to interact with the agency by phone or via the Internet.

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.

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