At the VA: Paper, Pencil and Questionable Tech

At the VA: Paper, Pencil and Questionable Tech

The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to make progress in fits and starts but still puts veterans at a tremendous disadvantage because of a lack of technological innovation and modernization of its claims process, according to lawmakers and a new study out this week.

Despite making progress in 2013 to shave the number of backlogged benefits claims, the VA seems to have stalled at around 400,000, according to “The Red Tape Report” by the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“In the State of the Union address, President (Barack) Obama re-affirmed the VA disability claims backlog as a national priority,” said Jacqueline Maffucci, IAVA’s research director and author of the report told NBC News. “… It is not just about bringing the backlog to zero, but keeping it there.”

Much of the problem lies in its troubled transition from a paper-and-pencil process to digital.

The IAVA report makes several recommendations, most notably on what it calls the “VA’s outdated disability system.” The report says, “Informed by research and first-hand accounts, the report details the VA’s outdated paper-based disability system that emphasizes the quantity of claims processed over the quality of the processed claim.”

According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the VA spent $537 million over a four-year period to create and install its Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) to digitize its claims process. After those four years just three percent of claims had been digitized, CIR found.

“Folks inside VA call VBMS ‘VBMess,’” Paul Rieckhoff, an Army veteran who is now executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said to Politico. “The technology is not consistent, and the interoperability between agencies is nonexistent.”

Congress is looking to new legislation and to technology industry leaders for new ideas how to continue to close the backlog of claims and to bring the VA into the 21st Century. Uncertainty remains if VBMS is the solution to adequately address the backlog issues for the VA.
The VA says that more then 78 percent of the current claims inventory can now be processed electronically through VBMS, up 32 percent from 2013.
Said Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and a veterans’ issues advocate, to Politico: “The [Veterans Benefits Administration] is doing a great deal right now under very trying circumstances. They are pushing uphill, and they’re trying to accomplish in a few years what typically takes much longer.”
Still, many veterans wait.
As of Feb. 3, the backlog of claims stood at 397,000, and another 200,000 claims were being appealed by veterans. And the VA continues to have just as many or more claims being filed each month than it is processing.