A senior Veterans Affairs Department official outlined progress made by the Veterans Benefits Administration in reducing the backlog of veterans' disability compensation and pension claims by 36 percent since March, attributing the success to the combined impact of transformation initiatives and increased employee productivity Dec, 11.
Allison A. Hickey, undersecretary of veterans affairs for benefits, testified at a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
"We know there is much more work to be done to reach our goal of eliminating the disability claims backlog in 2015," Hickey said. "But I'm encouraged that the improved tools and processes we've put in place so far are having a real impact so that we may better serve our nation's veterans, their survivors and their families."
Hickey detailed the elements of the Veterans Benefits Administration's transformation plan, which includes retraining and reorganizing its workforce, streamlining business processes, and building and implementing new technology solutions. With each transformation milestone, she said, VBA is successfully moving away from a paper-bound, manual process to improve benefits delivery through paperless claims processing. She also noted that if full funding is received, mandatory overtime for VBA claims processors, which helped to bring down the backlog this year, will continue for much of 2014.
The undersecretary highlighted several accomplishments in the testimony:
-- Decreasing the pending inventory of claims by 22 percent;
-- Decreasing the number of claims in the backlog pending for more than 125 days by 36 percent;
-- Increasing claim-level accuracy from about 83 percent in 2011 to 90 percent today;
-- Increasing medical issue-level accuracy to about 97 percent today;
-- Completing processing of 99.9 percent of all claims that were pending for more than two years;
-- Completing processing of 97 percent of all claims that were pending for more than one year through the end of October;
-- Converting more than 360 million images of paper claims documents into a digital format for electronic processing; and
-- Establishing more than 3.2 million veteran, service member and family member accounts in eBenefits, the joint Defense Department/VA Web portal for accessing and tracking VA benefits.
Also, Hickey said, VA's Web-based, paperless electronic claims processing solution, the Veterans Benefits Management System, or VBMS, was deployed to all 56 of VA's regional benefits offices across the country, six months ahead of schedule. VBMS has also been fielded to the Appeals Management Center, the Records Management Center, the Board of Veterans' Appeals, VA's National Call Center, and all VA Medical Centers.
Currently, about 75 percent of the VBA's claims inventory is in digital form for electronic processing in VBMS --– a percentage that is growing daily, Hickey said, adding that VBMS will continue to add new features and capability.
Hickey thanked the committee members for their support, noting that VA will rely on their continued support for resourcing the information technology and automation advancements needed to meet the dDepartment's goal of eliminating the backlog in 2015. In fiscal year 2013 alone, VA provided more than $59 billion in compensation benefits to 4 million veterans and survivors, and more than $5 billion in pension benefits to more than 515,000 veterans and survivors.
VA officials urge veterans and separating service members who are planning to file a disability claim to do so by filing fully developed claims, known as FDCs, electronically through eBenefits. Veterans and separating service members who need help filing their claims can contact their local veteran service organization for assistance, officials said.
Under current law, veterans filing initial disability compensation claims as FDCs now through Aug. 5, 2015, may be eligible for up to one year of retroactive benefits.
Registered eBenefits users with a Premium account can file a claim online, track the status, and access a variety of other benefits, including pension, education, health care, home loan eligibility, and vocational rehabilitation and employment programs.