When I started working at the Veterans Benefits Administration, I started on a project called Rules Based Processing System (RBPS), a feature in eBenefits that automates the processing of changes to a disabled Veteran’s family member status. At the time, my daughter was 6-months old and my husband and I were still waiting for VA to process our request to add her to our compensation benefits. Needless to say, this system hit close to home.
From my own experience, I could see firsthand how this new technology could not only change things for some Veterans, but for our organization. As the program grew from an employee’s idea to a pilot program in testing, I could not wait for VA to implement it nationally so it would be available for everyone. In October 2012, we soft-launched the system while we continued to enhance the system to allow it to work for as many Veterans as possible. Today, as we continue making enhancements, I am convinced it will have the effect I first thought it would.
Requests for changes to family member status are, for the most part, black and white – when you add a dependent, you get an added amount to your monthly compensation payment. Therefore, these requests lend themselves to automation more than other types of claims and requests. When you file a request through eBenefits, RBPS goes to work behind the scenes – it has a pre-determined list of boxes it must check to grant the benefit. If all boxes are checked, VA automatically grants the benefit, sends you a letter and deposits money in your account.
Veterans who have at least a 30 percent combined VA disability rating may use eBenfits to:
- Add a spouse.
- Add a child (or stepchild) under the age of 18.
- Add or update the status of a child (or stepchild) who is between 18 to 23 years old and is enrolled in an educational institution approved by VA.
If your request to add a family member to your disability compensation award is one of those described above, but the system cannot check all of the boxes – for any reason – the system sends the request to one of VA’s Veterans Service Representatives who processes it manually. We designed RBPS to ensure that when something is in question, a human — not a computer — makes the final determination. When it refers the request, RBPS notifies the VSR exactly why it could not check every box so he or she does not have to start from scratch. For the requests RBPS is able to process automatically from start to finish, the process should take only days. If the system has to refer it to a service representative, it will take closer to the normal processing time.
The types of family member changes RBPS cannot automatically process include:
- Requests where the Veteran uploaded a document. Marriage or birth certificates are not needed to grant a request, but if one is included VA is required to review it.
- Adding an adoptive child, which requires the Veteran to include documentation.
- Any requests where dates overlap. For example, a marriage starting before another ended. It is extremely important to ensure all information is accurate.
- Requests where the dependent’s social security number is already in VA’s corporate data such as adding a spouse who is a Veteran in receipt of VA compensation or is a VA employee.
RBPS is also available to Veterans who already have family member status requests pending with VA. Veterans who refile through RBPS may receive the added monetary amount in their next benefits payments. When VA processes the previously filed paper request, a service representative will reconcile the effective date for the increased payment, triggering back pay for the time the initial request was pending.
Remember VA cannot provide additional dependency benefits if:
- The Veteran does not have at least a 30 percent combined VA disability rating.
- The child or stepchild is over the age of 23.
- The child or stepchild is over the age of 18 and is not enrolled in a VA-approved school.
We are planning future enhancements to RPBS, which will automate:
- Removing a spouse due to death or divorce.
- Adding dependents already associated with other VA benefits such as another Veteran in receipt of compensation.
Do you have a new or pending request to update a family member’s status? To submit a request, log into your Premium eBenefits account and hover your mouse over the Apply for Benefits tab. Click on Add Depend. An interview-style questionnaire will launch to guide you through the process of making changes to your family member status. Remember, you must be receiving compensation at a combined rate of at least 30 percent in order to receive added payment for family members.
When I first started at VBA, my husband and I waited months for our first child to be added to our compensation benefits. When our second child arrived, we both used RBPS to add our son. Since my husband made the first request and we are both Veterans, our son was added to his compensation benefit almost immediately through RBPS. RBPS referred my request to a claims processor since my son’s social security number is now associated with my husband’s compensation benefit. It took both of us around 10 minutes to file our changes online through eBenefits, and we did not have to mail anything to VA. While my request was sent to a claims processor and will take a little longer, I am confident he or she will know exactly what needs to be done and be able to process it quickly.
Cat Trombley is a public affairs specialist with the Veterans Benefits Administration. Prior to working for VA, she was an assistant director at The American Legion and represented Veterans before the Board of Veterans Appeals. She is an Air Force Veteran and is married to a Marine Corps Veteran.