If there is one word in the English language that could be a four-letter word, it’s “claims.” From a Veteran’s standpoint, that six-letter word can be as cringe-worthy as any four-letter word heard while wearing the uniform.  At VA, we understand the claims process is a major source of contention with our Veterans.

The problem has been around a long time. If memory serves, America’s last World War I Veteran, Frank Buckles, who passed in February of this year, went a few rounds with VA over benefits in his time. And if I had to guess, issues with claims probably started shortly after Generals Grant and Lee left the service. So, the problems aren’t new.

What is fairly new is an approach in which VA is working to find creative ways to cut through the red tape; fix what is broken and find better ways of doing things. It’s called the Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative—or VAi2 for those who prefer acronyms.

VAi2 is a program designed to tap the talent and expertise of individuals both inside and outside government to contribute new ideas that ultimately produce new, innovative solutions that advance VA’s ability to both improve and deliver benefits and services.

VAi2’s roots can be traced back to a speech President Obama gave to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in August 2009 when he said:

 “We’re going to challenge each of our 57 regional VA offices to come up with the best ways of doing business, of harnessing the best information technologies, of cutting red tape and breaking through the bureaucracy. And then we’re going to fund the best ideas and put them into action, all with a simple mission: cut those backlogs, slash those wait times, deliver your benefits sooner.”

Shortly after that speech, Secretary Shinseki implemented VAi2, which includes an employee competition as part of the initiative. The idea is to ask frontline employees to propose ideas and solutions to solve the problems they face every day. Who knows better than those who actually do the work?

To date, there have been four Employee Innovation Competitions – two with the Veterans Health Administration and two with the Veterans Benefits Administration, resulting in a total of 40 employee ideas being selected and funded for implementation.

The most recent competition held with VBA employees resulted in six ideas being selected.  This particular competition sought ideas from employees to help Veterans with disabilities related to their military service obtain meaningful employment. VA will develop, test, and potentially implement these ideas for nationwide use in VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program.

As VA’s Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey said recently:

“Every Veterans Benefits Administration employee who participated in VA’s 2011 Employee Innovation Competition helped to improve service to our Veterans. Through the ingenuity of our employees and their deep understanding of what today’s Veterans need to gain good-paying jobs, we have a terrific set of innovations to pursue.”

The selected innovations have the potential to significantly improve the quality of services provided to participants in VA’s VR&E Program and to reduce the cost to taxpayers of delivering those services.

Winning ideas include: a paid internship program to help Veterans gain private-sector work experience; support systems for Post-9/11 Veteran-students with a traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder; development of a mentorship program for Veterans from the employment community; providing Mental Health First Aid training to VR&E employees to increase their understanding of mental illness and enable them to provide the highest level of service to ensure successful Veteran outcomes; online verification of eligibility for VR&E services; and enhancements to the disbursement of education benefits in the form of a pre-loaded debit card for purchasing books and supplies. View a complete list and description of the winners.

Thousands of employees cast their votes online with the top vote-getters having an opportunity to pitch their ideas to senior VA leaders with an official presentation. A multiple-judge panel then thoroughly reviewed all of the finalists and selected six ideas for funding.

VAi2 Director Jonah Czerwinski also added recently:

 “These are the best of the best.  With this selection, we now have 16 innovations funded from the Veterans Benefits Administration employee competitions, many of which have been implemented and are positively affecting our service-delivery.”

VAi2 officially launched in spring of 2010 to identify, fund, and test new ideas and new tools that improve access, enhance quality, reduce costs, and improve Veteran satisfaction with VA services.

The Initiative invites employees, private sector companies, entrepreneurs, and academic leaders to contribute their best ideas for innovations that increase Veterans’ access to VA services, improve the quality of services delivered, enhance the performance of VA operations, and reduce or control the cost of delivering those services that Veterans and their families receive. VAi2 will identify, prioritize, fund, test, and deploy the most promising solutions to the VA’s most important challenges.

To learn more about VAi2 and what innovative approaches VA is taking to better serve our Veterans, visit the site.

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Published on Oct. 24, 2011

Estimated reading time is 4.3 min.

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  2. Carl Spackler December 9, 2011 at 2:32 am

    The Indianapolis regional office does exactly as you describe. They have teams set up that specialize in certain types of claims. This does increase the processing time. I would have to argue that a Veteran who files a complicated claim deserves their claim to be processed as quickly as possible and not pushed aside so an easier claim can be worked. Many of the complicated claims come from older Veteran’s who did not have access to the resources that the younger Veteran population has today. Therefore, a lack of knowledge in how the claims process works leads to a more difficult claim. In addition, they did not have access to the healthcare resources of today making it more difficult to connect an issue to service.

  3. Lauchlan J. FORD November 19, 2011 at 1:17 am

    I can’t understand what these people are talking about; requested my medical records over fifteen years ago and have yet to see them. Same mailing address and phone number for over thirty-five years. My tongue is firmly planted in my cheek.

  4. william white November 9, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    May be if the VA used people to specializes in small claims and others to specializes in larger claims would make the process go a lot fasters. The more smaller claims are processed; the more Vets can be taking care of. It seems to me the claim handlers are taking the first claim that comes across their desk and it doesn’t matter how complicated the claim is; moreover one special group of people working on nothing but claims for PTSD and PTBD, also MST would greatly decrease the time that it takes to process a claim, and more vets can receive their due compensation.

  5. Lemoris Alston October 25, 2011 at 11:35 am

    The idea of these innovative approaches for claims is cute, but the reality is different. It still is taking too much time to have benefits claims completed. I think I will die before my claim is ever completed. Hopefully, these new ideas will aid the current returning vets.

  6. maurice scott October 24, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    Initiatives are exciting, if they work, benefits started as a workable solution, its upgrading provides less information than prior editions. I’ve been at this claim process for eight years, while advancement has come, but the vba has really failed to address the problems, in my vba regional office which has good folks working there, but the real problem that wouldn’t cost funding, is those who work as raters, and some management, clean house and you will see better service. The assistant service manager needs to be the director, and the director needs to be retired.

  7. Herman Brakob October 24, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    You need to do something to cut down the wait for an appointment. I have had to wait several months for a simple audiology appointment to check a dramatic reduction in my ability to hear. I realize this isn’t “life and death”, but imagine going for months unable to carry on normal conversations with your family.

  8. vets wife says October 24, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    It is all the red tape that causes the back log and not even important but when someone has a private physician who not only has documented the condition and did all the proper exams and testing to back up the claim, it should for no reason have to take 2 or 3years for a claim. I know the VA doctors are back logged with claims but that shouldnt have anything to do with evidence that someone submitts from a professional private medical doctor , exspecially when they specialize in that type of illness. That alone would cut out alot of time wasted on a claim, when that va doctor could be seeing someone who doesnt have private insurance. Does the VA really think a Private doctor is going to state something that isnt true and take the chance of loosing there license , come on, i dont think so. To me having private doctors should help the VA with the whole processing of claims but it doesnt, its just more wasted government money spent to have the same test run with the VA and takes forever to get a test anyway. I truely believe it has nothing to do with the amount of claims the VA has, its about the way the claims are processed and handled. There for no reason should documents just sit in a pile for years before they are touched, its uncalled for and very unnecessary.

    • Carl Spackler December 9, 2011 at 2:19 am

      The manuals that govern the development and rating processes at the VA do allow a case to be rated without a VA exam, if the evidence of record is sufficient to do so. The one issue is when a Veteran files a claim more than a year following discharge. This requires a medical opinion from a doctor to establish a link between the current issue and the event in service. The VA is slowly release disability benefits questionnaires, which allow a Veteran to be evaluated by their private physician. No word on how the opinion is provided.

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