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After bumpy start, VA says paperless claims transition will be smooth

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The Veterans Affairs Department has begun a nationwide transition to paperless processing of disability claims at regional offices and says it has addressed previous problems and slowdowns within the system.

In a Jan. 14 announcement, VA says it will expand the digital Veterans Benefits Management System to all regional offices, covering more than 14,000 claims examiners, by the end of 2013 as part of its goal to eliminate its entire disability claims backlog by 2015. At the end of 2012, the VA had 900,121 disability claims in its backlog.

In a Dec. 2012 test, the VA expanded VBMS to 18 regional offices where examiners began to digitally process new claims. During that pilot, however, the service slowed down, especially during peak hours.

In an emailed statement, VA says the problem was due to an inefficiently written service call in its Benefits Enterprise Platform, on which VBMS relies. "Once the root problem was identified, we added hardware overnight to increase capacity on BEP, and re-coded and tested the service call" and the agency says that the service is now operating normally.

However, the platform experienced similar issues in initial tests in 2011 and 2012 when just a few users opened files, and the lag increased as more users accessed the system and as the work day progressed, Richard Dumancas, deputy director for claims for the American Legion, told the House Veterans' Affairs Committee on June 19.

It's unclear if these early problems were also due to the BEP service call.

Dumancas and others also raised concerns with the system lacking a clear method of incorporating existing paper files into new digital records. The agency says it has addressed these concerns with scanners and other methods of entry.

The agency also has a 2015 goal of processing claims in 125 days or less, at a 98 percent accuracy rate.

Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey said in the Jan. 14 announcement that the new software offers access to decision-level information, rules-based calculators, digital folders for each claim, stored and shareable documents, and real-time workload information to move claims to regional offices with available workforce.

For the last three fiscal years, the VA has completed more than 1 million claims per year, and the agency says the current backlog comes from an increased demand from returning veterans and new eligibilities. It recently proposed rules to expand brain injury coverage.

For more:
- read the VA announcement

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