Veterans’ Agency Gets New Computers – and Complaints

Veterans

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has a new computer system – the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS). VBA and the Office of Information and Technology are hoping the new system will help better manage the mountain of paper, electronic documents, correspondence and other content created and handled as part of their day-to-day business processes.

The new system arrives as the VA faces increased pressure to operate more efficiently, while reducing costs and addressing veterans’ need for faster, simpler and more effective services.

Katie Roberts, press secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said, “VA fully shares veterans’ concerns about the timeliness of disability benefit claims processing. Our primary mission is to be an advocate for veterans. There is a family member, husband, wife, son and daughter behind every veteran who uses VA benefits, and we must never take that responsibility lightly.”

Roberts added, “The Veterans Benefits Administration has undertaken a new information technology strategy to improve business processes to reduce the average days to complete rating claims and improve consistency.”

VBA plans to do the following:

  • Help veterans get their benefits in a timely and efficient manner as well as give them oversight into the status of their benefits.
  • Build a solution that provides a unified content, process and compliant environment.
  • Provide interoperability to the databases, applications, operating systems, portals, security, servers, storage, systems management tools and Web server environments.
  • Reduce operations costs and simplify IT infrastructure.
  • Provide operational efficiency across the organization by creating a common interface for building and deploying content and process applications.

Roberts said, “Combining several technology initiatives with a business transformation effort, VBA will reduce the backlog of claims and improve customer service to veterans, beneficiaries and third-party stakeholders, such as veterans service organizations.”

However, Veterans for Common Sense, a veterans advocacy group, criticized the new VBMS system. In a statement VCS released, the group stated, “The ‘new’ VBMS is nothing more than a re-tread of several existing VBA computer system failures. All VBMS might do (if it ever works) is slightly speed up already error-filled VBA decisions. What’s missing in VBMS? Accuracy. Accountability. Transparency. A streamlined process. A pro-veteran culture. Reduced red tape. A single-page claim form. A fast decision in 30 days or less.”

VCS calls the new computer system “dead on arrival” because “VBMS does nothing for our veterans.” Also, VCS criticizes the agency for denying the existence of one million claims in backlog.

The VCS group stated, “The most troubling part of VBA’s briefing was how VBA staff said the claim backlog was only 179,000. That’s because VBA defines the claim backlog as limited only to new claims without a decision after 125 days. VCS is concerned because Mike Cardarelli, VBA’s acting deputy under secretary, did nothing to correct this obvious error during the meeting.”

VCS added, “The most accurate definition, based on VBA’s own ‘Monday Morning Workload Report,’ is to include all pending claims (new, reopened, and appeals for compensation, pension and education) where the total is more than one million. VBA leaders may never fix the backlog until VBA comes clean and admits one million veterans (and our families) often wait years for VBA decisions.”

Paul Sullivan of VCS said, “They’ve tried this before, and it won’t work” because the VBA, which processes claims, “wants to tie existing broken systems together” when it should start from scratch with new policies and begin phasing out the ones that don’t work. VCS concluded, “We need to keep the pressure on VBA to improve accuracy, quality, speed, and accountability.”

VBMS is expected to move VBA to a paperless claims environment. According to Roberts, the Veteran Relationship Manager (VRM) system will enhance veterans’ abilities to communicate with the agency through multiple communication channels, including by telephone via live agent and/or interactive voice response, online via email and/or web self-service.

Also, VRM will feature a web-based interface and will allow VBA staff to manage interactions with a veteran through all communication channels, including in person. In addition, VRM will let veterans access their accounts online and update their records.

VBA has also instituted two pilot programs, which look to transform the claims process.

A Lean Six Sigma pilot, focused on optimizing the paper-based process, is underway in the Little Rock, Arkansas, Regional Office. This pilot program is designed to reduce the physical movement of paper, standardize claims processing operations and optimize workflow linking it to customer demand.

The Providence, Rhode Island, Regional Office is VBA’s Business Transformation Lab. That facility is designated as the testing lab for new workflows associated with paperless activities such as scanning, paperless workflow triggers and end-to-end paperless processing activities. The VBMS strategy, in conjunction with VRM, will allow the agency to capitalize on new technologies making the current paper-centric claims process more efficient, Roberts said.

Business process reengineering efforts will fully capitalize on technology enhancements by streamlining the current process and applying new business processes to new technology, she said.

Roberts said these efforts are designed to improve the current claims process, deliver benefits faster and more consistently, and provide veterans and beneficiaries the level of customer service they deserve.