Last summer, while standing outside the audiology clinic at the George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, I noticed a Veteran looking somewhat anxious and a little confused. When I asked him if I could be of any assistance, he explained to me that he was completely deaf in one ear, had significant hearing loss in his other ear, and was in desperate need of hearing aids.  However, he could not afford them and was hoping VA could help.

Staff at VA’s audiology clinic recommended the Veteran file a VA disability compensation claim for his hearing loss. If granted service connection for the disability, VA would provide hearing aids free of charge.  The Veteran was unsure how to begin the process of filing a VA disability claim.  As a team lead for the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) at the Salt Lake City VA Regional Office I knew just where he should start. Together, we began the process of applying for disability compensation using VA’s new online process.

VBMS is one of the new tools we are using to help process Veterans claims faster and with less errors. One of a variety of technology solutions we are implementing, VBMS is a web-based, electronic claims processing portal created to give VA the ability to process Veterans’ claims paper-free. It is helping us move from a paper-based claims process to a digital one. Think more “IRS e-filing” and less “photos of stacks of Veterans claims files.” Using VBMS and, eBenefits, our online portal for Veterans, we now have the tools needed to become paper-free.

VBMS allows our claims processors to do many things automatically that we used to do manually, making our workforce more efficient.

Using VBMS, we can now digitize a Veteran’s claim-related evidence into an electronic file (or format) and send it quickly along from claims processors and medical examiners located offsite.

Our employees spend less time searching for and transferring paper records and can spend more time processing Veterans claims.  In essence, all the relevant information about a Veteran’s claim is available instantly to all VA employees working on the claim.

In this particular case, the Veteran filed his claim May 2, 2012.  By using VBMS, we were able to complete it July 18, 2012, for a total processing time of 78 days.  The Veteran was granted service connection for his hearing loss, and received hearing aids at no charge from VA shortly after.  The national average to process a claim using the paper-based method is 272 days (as of December 12, 2012).

In the paper-based system, I would have expedited this Veteran’s claim given his history.  Doing so would have required an employee to hand carry the paper file and verbally inform the audiology clinic of the expedited nature of the case.  However, with VBMS, I was able to electronically track, prioritize and transfer claim-related information in real-time– allowing me to divert employee resources to processing other Veterans’ claims rather than creating foot traffic to move a paper folder.

Transitioning to a paperless system is much more complex than one may think, especially for an organization as large as VA.  We will face technological and human challenges along the way.  Even as we start to implement VBMS at all processing locations (it’s currently being used at 18 regional offices and is scheduled to be at all 56 by the end of 2013), we are tweaking it and making improvements behind the scenes.  At the end of the day, VBMS, along with a wide range of additional improvements in business processes we are also implementing, will help enable employees to process claims faster and more accurately.

It will take time to fully transform VA into a more efficient electronic organization, but the transformation from a paper-intensive process, rooted in World War II to an electronic environment worthy of today’s and future Veterans is a big step in the right direction. VBMS will provide immeasurable benefit in improving employee efficiency and thus, providing better service to our nation’s Veterans.

Jim Thomas is a Supervisory Veterans Service Representative and is a Team Lead for VBMS Transformation at the Salt Lake City Regional Office. He has worked for VA for 8 years and is an Army Veteran. 

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Published on Feb. 13, 2013

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  1. Juan March 1, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    I lost my hopes that my appeal be finalized, since 2000 VA took away my % from my migraines headaches, I’m taking all kinds of pills prescribed by VA Drs.for my migraines didn’t help at all, I follow theirs intructions, drive 2 hours for their appointment , over the years my conditions are deteriorating, SSA approved me in six months, it’s hurt when I put my life, tears, blood on the line for the service and I only ask is for what I deserve, since 2000 I wait for the VA to make a decision on my claim now is become appeal, I am tire, too tire, I can’t wait no longer, is so depressive thinking that I won’t see a decision to my claim(appeal)hurricane sandy hit me bad but that was like for two months, VA hiting me for 13 years and is sad this treatment….

  2. Rick February 26, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    In reference to your article, my claim has been in since july 2011for service connected surgery x3. Granted temp 100% Feb 2012 every time I call when you can get through it’s were back logged (Reno) when they open your’e claim why can’t they finish? Seems the process is not working?

  3. Arch Yeomans February 21, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Maybe the VA should be completely privatized. It would certainly run more like a well-oiled machine rather than a bureaucracy of endless red tape.

    The VA’s ineffectiveness to be timely is truly making its relevance of existing not worthy.

  4. don morby February 15, 2013 at 12:39 am

    I have been involved lately with this “new system” and not thrilled with it so far. I received a 30% rating in 1992 for a deteriorating disease. In June of 2010 I filed for an increase with all the correct paperwork using a VFW Veterans service officer. Then began the wait. I attended every exam they sent me too, went through several operations, turned in all that paper work, got signed onto ebenifits, have spent hours awaiting on the toll free number and I am still waiting going on 3 years now with no end in site. The biggest problem I see is the frustration of not being able to actually talk to someone who is handling my claim and waiting and waiting.

    • Jim Thomas February 15, 2013 at 3:16 pm

      3 years is a long time to be waiting on a decision for your claim for increase. As I stated in the blog, the national average to process a claim using the paper-based method is approximately 272 days. You should speak to your VFW Veterans Service Officer, and ask them to inquire about your claim. They may have contacts at the Regional Office where your claim is being processed who could provide some answers as to why it is taking so long to process your claim.

      • Arch Yeomans February 21, 2013 at 1:18 pm

        3 years should require an investigation by the GAO on what exactly you people at the VA are doing. Seriously! It must be very little.

  5. paul williams February 13, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Excellent.When I was on rating boards 25 years ago about 10% of members cut about every case they could and were exercising so called ‘professional’ judgment.The rest of us worked full time attempting to right the ship.Vets lost everything than received a huge check three years later when they won on appeal.The appeal process has to have some limits.There were Huge files based on claims with no merit-so called ,new and material evidence was ‘anything at all’ It would be less expensive if military retired pay were tax free so a 30 year vet does not claim conditions like flat feet to get a tax break-again step in right direction-todays vets the best-IAVA supporter MBR AFA

  6. William Corder February 13, 2013 at 11:30 am

    We filed a dependency claim 01/06/2012. According to the eBenefits site, this claim should have been completed 12/30/2012. When I called to check on this claim, I was told that everything had to be checked before claim was approved. When asked what needed to be checked, I was told any records of divorce, death or marriage. Where they are going to get these records without asking us is beyond my comprehension.

    I am retired military and have a 30% disability rating. My wife and I are in the DEERS system. Had to present all the above listed records to receive our military ID cards. Why doesn’t the VA check with the DEERS system to attempt to verify these records? I’m either married or not! Shouldn’t take an act of congress to get this claim approved!

    • Jim Thomas February 15, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      William – Have you contacted a Veterans Service Organization (VSO)? They provide remarkable assistance to Veterans, and can assist you in following up on your dependency claim. They also provide Power of Attorney (POA) services, allowing them to file and manage claims on your behalf. There are many VSOs out there such as Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH), etc.

      • Mark Johnson February 20, 2013 at 9:12 am

        We should not have to rely on VSO’s for assistance. I have a similar log jam with the VA. I was simply updating my dependents information. I attached the marriage certificate as well as copies of our military retiree ID cards. Something this basic should not take 12 months (and counting) to update.

        • Arch Yeomans February 21, 2013 at 1:15 pm

          This is one thing I absolutely abhor about the Veteran’s Administration. Why on God’s green earth would we need some advocate to represent us just to get what we’re entitled to? This truly shows how inefficient and ineffective the Veteran’s Administration is. Really? 12 months to get any sort of info or claim status is absolutely reprehensible. Why do we even have the VA? Is it that nobody is doing their job there? Instead of looking at defense cuts, I think getting rid of the VA altogether and let the military side of the house run things it would run much smoother. Not to mention having to transfer all sorts of records and worry about this atrocity called the VA that has some weird tendency to lose everything. What a God damned joke they are!

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