VA: Benefit scanning by NARA not enough to cut claims backlog
The Veterans Affairs Department plans to hire the National Archives and Records Administration for benefit scanning services for a third year, depsite the fact that NARA's document processing rate isn't significantly chipping away at VA's claims backlog.
Using NARA alone will not be enough to meet VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's 2015 goal of eliminating the benefit claims backlog and processing all claims at 98 percent accuracy within 125 days, said Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits at VA. Claims growth has been unprecedented--increasing nearly 48 percent in past 3 years, she added. Hickey spoke June 19 before the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
The contract is set to expire June 26. And while VA and NARA do not yet have an agreement, NARA expects to continue scanning at up to 600,000 pages per month, said William Bosanko, executive for agency services at NARA.
There's "really nothing standing in the way of [renegotiating the contract] by the end of this week," said VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker.
To address the delta between NARA's processing rate and the 60 million digital claims necessary to roll out the Veteran's Benefits Management System, VA will look into private-sector solutions, added Bosanko.
Over the last two years VA has spent $9.7 million on NARA scanning services--using NARA primarily from "a development standpoint," said Baker. As development moves to production-level scanning, NARA will continue to work with VA at one level, but the agency will also "scale up to a private-sector commercial level of scanning," he said.
Baker indicated that NARA was not necessarily better qualified than any other private sector service provider.
"We needed somebody with expertise that we could access quickly. And it's much easier to access another government organization," said Baker.
"I believe the skills for doing that work could have potentially been accessed from the private sector, which is why we're looking at the large volume being a private sector piece, but we believe they were the right partner for the developmental stage of [the VBMS]," he said.
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