Veterans agency streamlines claims processing

A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related.

That is more than double the 21 percent who filed such claims after some other relatively recent wars, top government officials told The Associated Press.

The “Department of Veterans Affairs is mired in backlogged claims, but our mission is to take care of whatever the population is,” said Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits at VA, which is streamlining its claims system and going to electronic records.

For now, though, Hickey said VA has “4.4 million case files sitting around 56 regional offices that we have to work with; that slows us down significantly.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the national deployment of claims-transformation initiatives to 12 regional offices in the remaining months of fiscal year 2012 to improve delivery of benefits to veterans, families and their survivors.

“This is an important milestone in our transformation to achieve the goal we established in 2009 of processing all disability claims within 125 days at a 98 percent accuracy level in 2015,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

VA’s transformation plan is based on more than 40 measures that were selected, evaluated, tested and measured from more than 600 stakeholder and employee-innovation ideas.

During the national deployment, VA will further track and gauge the effects of the transformation plan to reduce the backlog of disability claims and provide veterans, their families and survivors with more timely and accurate claims decisions. VA expects to deploy the transformation plan to the remaining 40 regional offices throughout 2013.

The major components of the transformation plan include:

The Intake Processing Center, which adds a formalized process for triaging claims documents and other mail, and drives faster and more accurate association of mail with veterans’ claims files.

Segmented Processing Lanes, which allow claims that can be more easily rated to move quickly through the system and the more complex claims to be processed by VA’s more experienced and skilled employees.

Cross-Functional Teams, which support a case-management approach to claims processing that minimizes rework and reduces processing time.

The Veterans Benefits Management System, a new electronic claims-processing system that employs rules-based technologies to improve decision speed and quality.

VA already has implemented two new strategies nationally. Quality Review Teams are composed of local specialists who evaluate station and individual employee performance and conduct in-process reviews to eliminate errors at the earliest possible stage. Simplified and Standardized Rating Notification Letters give veterans one simplified decision letter that provides notice of VA’s decision, including a summary of the evidence considered and the reason for the decision.

Richard Schleeter is the veterans service officer for the La Plata County Veterans Service Office. He can be reached at 759-0117 or schleeterrs@co.laplata.co.us.

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