By Debbie Gregory.
The VA has decided to end paper processing, and move into the 21st century. Historically, our government has armed soldiers with the technology necessary to succeed on the battlefield, enabling them to topple targets like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Washington is finally recognizing the importance of technology on the home front, where it can help soldiers who have returned home with injuries.
While much of America went digital years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs is just now deploying a paperless claims system, designed to speed up the processing of disability benefits. As of last month, 18 regional claims processing offices were up and running with the technology, expanding to 38 other offices sometime this year.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has implemented an aggressive plan to eliminate the disability claims backlog by 2015. The new initiative includes processing the oldest disability claims first, as well as a one year safety net for the veteran to present additional evidence. The VA’s new paperless processing system will expedite newer disability claims more efficiently and faster.
Drafted four years ago to fix what President Barack Obama called the “broken bureaucracy” of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Shinseki wagered that as VA secretary, he could eliminate the scandalous backlog of veterans’ claims for benefits, and the mountain of paperwork.
Rather than tinkering at the margins, as previous leaders of the VA had done, Shinseki has led a direct attack on the department’s 19th century practice of processing claims with paper and stubby pencils. His intent is to demolish the old system and replace it with something any user of Amazon or Google would recognize: automated, interactive digital processing that is light-years ahead in speed and accuracy.
As older disability claims are processed and cleared electronically through the VA’s new paperless processing system, the VA’s average time to complete claims has significantly improved by 30 percent.
The Obama administration has announced that its forthcoming budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 will increase funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, in part to help the agency digitize its disability claims. Secretary Shinseki said that the agency is committed to ending the claims backlog by the end of 2015.
The VA is continuing to implement several initiatives to meet Secretary Shinseki’s goal of eliminating the claims backlog in 2015. In May, the VA announced that it was mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices, which will continue through the end of FY 2013. In June, the VA announced that claims decisions for Veterans who have a waited a year or longer, more than 65,000 claims nationwide – or 97 percent of all claims over two years old in the inventory – had been eliminated from the backlog.