VA touts new digitized system as antidote to claims backlog
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ new digitized records system is bringing “fundamental improvements” to the agency’s efforts to slash its massive backlog of pending disability compensation claims, The New York Times reported Friday.
Allison A. Hickey, a retired Air Force general who is the undersecretary for veterans’ benefits, has vowed to process all claims in 125 days or less by 2015. A recent analysis by The Center for Investigative Reporting found the average wait time in June was eight months.
The VA has come under fire from veterans, advocacy groups, lawmakers and federal watchdogs for the delays. A May inspector general’s audit of a regional office in North Carolina found that the sheer volume of claims paperwork was so overwhelming that it threatened to collapse the building. Auditors documented claims files piled nearly to the ceiling and in towering stacks of cardboard boxes.
The Times described the current system, which relies on paper records than can number into thousands of pages for each veteran, this way:
“Once a claim is received, workers must input information by hand, a time-consuming and often mistake-prone step. Then a veterans service representative who processes claims must review the documents — personnel records, doctors’ memos, hospital receipts — thumbing through page after page of documents in search of data that can support a disability claim.”
The new digitized system is being tested in four regional offices and will be in place in 40 offices by the end of 2013, the Times said.
Workers told the Times the new system makes researching and processing claims much more efficient, allowing them to search for keywords in seconds rather than manually thumbing through pages. It also consolidates several existing databases and provides prompts during the input process that help reduce mistakes.
But the growing number of combat-related illnesses and injuries -- the number of new claims filed annually has increased by 48 percent since 2010 – means the backlog will continue for the foreseeable future.
Source: The New York Times