New technology automates Veterans’ requests to update family member status

RBPSWhen 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.

CatFrameCat 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.

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50 Comments to “New technology automates Veterans’ requests to update family member status”

  1. Sandra Wilson says:

    I think every Veteran should be covered 100% weither they have a disability or not. They served to protect you and me! The veteran should not have to provide and documents since the Federal Government already has the documents. This makes me angry the hoops that the veterans have to jump through in order to get any kind of help!

  2. Allan Shapiro says:

    When I applied for my wife to be added, I was told the process would take as long as my initial claim which was approved after almost 3 years at 50% disabled. I went online as you suggested and applied that way. Everything was accepted and thanks to you, I believe we will receive the additional compensation soon.

    Thank you so much for your advice.

    Cordially,
    Allan Shapiro

  3. Reanna says:

    Do not think ever Veteran should get 100 percent disability, Husband is Gulf War Veteran rated 80 percent, he is very sick, has been exposed to a lot .They have him on so many medication its crazy, he is unemployable, does not like being around crowds, This PTSD has ruined are marriage, we will be filing for Divorce soon.Its very sad as he a very good Man inside, the outrage cannot take anymore, also financial.I am disabled on Medicaid have to have full coverage, Rally think i might have gotten sick from him.Also my son has ADHD, they tried to say he has autism he does not.We cannot afford to stay married,.He has full coverage and he should, things just are not getting better, he stomach bones, moods, and other conditions.The Federal Government has done this by not rating him 100 percent.80 percent does not take care of a family, PTSD has a domino effect on are family.Veteran do need health coverage 100 percent and they deserve it.He signed Gulf War redgister 1999 ,they said the lost it?

  4. John says:

    I submitted my new wife to my claim in October 2012. As of last month, it was still pending review for whatever reason. A VA employee whom I served with in the Army suggested I resubmit the claim electronically. Sure enough, it approved in TWO days!! Much better, thanks!!!

  5. rb325th says:

    In April of last year I filed again to remove a spouse, and again to adjust for my sons both being over 18 but attending VA Approved Schools. I said again, as I had informed VA of my Divorce when it happened but apparently they never stopped paying me for her, but did stop paying for my sons after the age of 18.
    My oldest son turned 18 over 4 years ago and has never stopped going to school. My youngest turned 18 two years ago and has not stopped going to school.
    My claim is sitting on someones desk somewhere and has no been touched at all according to e-benefits. The system is still broken.

    • Catherine Trombley says:

      Unfortunately you cannot use RBPS to remove a spouse, yet. I know waiting is a pain. I had to wait when I went through a divorce several years back. We’ve been focused on establishing entitlement benefits to Veterans but are working on a plan to clear pending dependency requests soon. As for your sons, use the system to resubmit those requests. If it processes through the rules, you can receive benefits the next month and when we get to the paper request we will reconcile the effective date to trigger back pay, if needed.

  6. Raynea Call says:

    You stated that Marriage Certificates or Birth Certificates are not needed to grant a dependency request through the RBPS:
    If a veteran does not upload a marriage certificate or birth certificate, how does VARO ensure this is the veteran’s dependent?

    • Catherine Trombley says:

      Hi Raynea. Whether filing in paper or electronically, Veterans do not need to include marriage certificates or birth certificates for most dependency requests. We simply need a social security number. The law allows us to take the Veterans’ word (find him or her credible) unless there is some evidence of record that contradicts the Veteran’s request.

      • chris says:

        What if for my situation, I got out of the Army in 2012 and I was married at the time that I was in active duty, and now I am adding my wife thru VA but she does not have a SSN because she is not here and she is not yet a US citizen? I send the VA her TIN no.

        • Catherine Trombley says:

          Hi Chris,

          Your situation is one of the ones that will not automatically process. However, you can still file the request through ebenefits and leave the Social Security number blank. Since it won’t process through automatically, upload a copy, or statement, of her TIN. A claims processor will have to manually process your request. Hopefully, it won’t take too long as we are working a plan to clear the pending requests.

          • chris says:

            I already submitted a paper claim almost a year now.. and still I am waiting for it. I am already processing my wife’s paper to get her here. I just do not get it, when I was in active duty my was my dependent how come they just ask the army or DEERS so they will know that she is my wife. I already submitted her TIN no. to regional office. I am tired of waiting for the things I know I deserve…

  7. Jake Neta says:

    What about a person who lives with you and helps you because of my disability? Can she be put on as a dependent?

    • Catherine Trombley says:

      Hi Jake,

      Unfortunately no. However, VHA may offer caretaker benefits 1-855-260-3274. You may also qualify for special monthly compensation. Call 1800-827-1000 to speak to a call center representative about it. Or talk to a Veteran Service Representative, like DAV, VFW, PAV, The American Legion, etc.

  8. Chad Shipley says:

    THIS IS A COMPLETE LIE. I FILED AND CALLED WAS TOLD IT WILL TAKE TEN FRACKEN MONTHS!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Michelle says:

    My husband went through eBenefits again last night to add dependents and nothing changed. His 1st claim to add dependents from 5/24/2013 shows that the completion time is passed due (by several months) and will be deleted next month. I’m having a hard time understanding why it is such an issue to add dependents that have 1. been enrolled in DEERS for almost 5 years, 2. documentation was provided during the MedBoard process, and 3. all documents were hand delivered and e-filed. My husband works a full time job and doesn’t have hours to sit on hold waiting to speak to someone that will just tell him he needs to wait more. What needs to be done to fix this? It shouldn’t take years to add spouses and children you already have proof of.

    • Catherine Trombley says:

      Michelle,

      Nothing will be deleted, I assure you. We keep and/or scan everything. It takes us longer than DOD because we cannot blanket accept every Veteran’s request to add a dependent — our laws make it so only Vets 30% or more disabled get the added benefit. And our laws require us to review documents a Veteran sends in. We are working a plan to clear the requests that are pending.

  10. Wayne says:

    When i try to add my dependents online i always get an error

  11. Lynn Santosuosso says:

    I applied to add a spouse dependent in July 2013 via snail mail. It shows in ebenefits that it was received a being processed but there it sits…. Still! If I go in and apply as stated above will it change my original filing date?

    • Catherine Trombley says:

      Hi Lynn,

      If it processes through automatically, you will start getting the added monetary amount in you next benefits check. When one of our claims processors pull your paper dependency request, he or she will reconcile the effective date which will trigger your back pay. We are working through a plan now to clear the pending paper requests.

  12. Lynn says:

    So I filed to add my spouse as a dependent in July 2013. I sent it via snail mail because I didn’t know about ebenefits at the time. It shows in ebenefits that it was received, processed and awaiting a decision. I am 60% SC, sent in the marriage certificate and am waiting. My VFW SR said that all dependency claims are on hold right now yet I am reading that these are being processed. If I file through RBPS now will I lose my original submission date?? Who knows what is really going on??

    • Catherine Trombley says:

      Lynn,

      They are being worked, however, our primary focus has been on working entitlement benefits so Veterans can receive compensation and pension. I know its frustrating. But we are working a plan to clear the paper requests. In the meantime, file on ebenfits (don’t upload documents if you are adding any of the dependents outlined in the above post). When one of our employees gets to the paper request, we will adjust the award to trigger the back payment. However, if it processes through RBPS, you will get the added amount in your next benefits payment.

      • DeMarcus Stokes says:

        If I uploaded paperwork for my wife just to be a head of the game will the system still work. Or should I just waited?

  13. Joseph McCage says:

    Have been waiting almost two years and then resubmitted after comp was done for dependency comp. nothing happened still pending and then I was told to submit electronically still waiting and then submitted the other day during townhall still waiting.

  14. Rita Lundy says:

    My husband’s claim to add our children was just submitted via RBPS (no documents attached). We have been waiting since July of 2012 for the claim to be processed, and that due date was set for Dec 2012. So I REALLY hope this sytem improves the process. I know back pays are ridiclous but am so glad that someone finally had an EPIPHANY to auto approve dependents :-D Looking forward to an answer within 1-2 days!!!!!

  15. Patricia Moore says:

    Cat, I don’t know if this is your area of specialty, but my father (a WWII veteran) and mother were accepted for Aid and Attendance benefits in 2012. My father passed away in Dec.2012. Benefits stopped immediately. We reapplied for benefits for Mom in July of 2013. mom is 92, legally blind, deaf and has severe osteoporosis. After the medical expenses are deducted from her income, she’s living on $300.00 a month. This week we received notification that Mom would be eligible for benefits back to Jan. 2013; however her doctor diagnosed her as having dementia. Now the back payments are being held until she can assign a fiduciary, and a personal representative. Additional paperwork needs to be submitted and my sister and I need to be “checked out”. We are being told this will take an additional 60 days. In the meantime, my sister and I are providing Mom’s physical and financial support. Can you tell us where we can go or talk to to help us expedite this process?

  16. Nicole says:

    Every time I try to Add Dependent on the ebenefits site, I get the following error message:
    Alert: Online Applications Error
    We’re sorry, but the application has encountered an error. Please try again later or contact the VA at 1-800-827-1000. Please refer to the following error code: VDC-0dae2005.

    I have tried to call VA several times and have been told to wait til it comes back up. It has been giving me the error since last Monday.

    • Catherine Trombley says:

      Nicole,

      This was an issue for a short time, we fixed it, can you try again and see if you are still getting the error?

  17. Michael Seitz says:

    I had to add my middle daughter to my claim in November 13. She was not put on my original claim for some reason. I uploaded the paperwork via Ebenefits and it is currently “under review” with an estimated completion date of 20 April 14 to 7 Septemer 14. Should I resubmit under this program? Thanks

    • Catherine Trombley says:

      Yes. You do not need to upload paperwork if she your biological daughter or a step child. We will adjust you award (which will trigger back pay) when we come across your other request.

  18. Carol Todd says:

    What about name changes? I submitted a name change about 7 years ago and it went through fine. Then about 3 years ago my old name reappeared. Now my va records and pay reflect the old name and my retired id card reflects the correct last name. What to do?

  19. Nicole Greer says:

    Every time I try to Add Dependent on the ebenefits site, I get the following error message:
    Alert: Online Applications Error
    We’re sorry, but the application has encountered an error. Please try again later or contact the VA at 1-800-827-1000. Please refer to the following error code: VDC-0dae2005.

    I have tried to call VA several times and have been told to wait til it comes back up. It has been giving me the error since last Monday.

    • P. Mullen says:

      I get an HTTP 500 error everytime I try to add my dependants. I called the ebenefits technical support line, and he said it should be back up soon, but this was three days ago. How much longer is this going to be down? It seems like there’s always something wrong on ebenefits and it’s so frustrating.

  20. Michael says:

    I wanted to comment, because a rating official called me yesterday. I was divorced 16 years ago and sent several paper forms in to the VA to change dependancy status. I was remarried 9 years ago. A veteran usually does not know the status of a change request unless his VA rating changes and they get a letter from the VA. The rater that called said that when I refiled electronically, it was basically voided because I already had a previous paper form Iin my file. The thing that brought this to my attention was that my rating was increased, then I filed for Service Disabled Life Insurance listing new spouse as beneficiary. The insurance triggered VA to remove my ex-spouse. The rater that called was very friendly and explained that it was VA’s error paying me for many years that I was unmarried and that I would not have to repay any overpayment going back to the paper form in my file from 2003. I did notify the VA as early as 1999, but no record of it was in my file. How does this happen that the VA sits on paperwork for over a decade.

  21. Terry L Freeman says:

    I have been searching for the reporting Page to report that my wife has passed away to change my Disability Compensation, & I cannot find where to do this! I saw that it is in the works for this (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.), but I cannot access my eBenefit account due to not remembering my Password, & my old stored email has been Deleted by MSN – Hotmail account!!!

    I don’t now what else to do! I need someone from eBenefit to answer the email I sent them, & nothing yet… I’m very upset as it is dealing with the loss of my wife… Thanks!

    • Catherine Trombley says:

      Terry,

      I am so sorry for your loss. Call 1800-827-1000 to notify VA of her passing. The call center reps should take care of the rest.

  22. Burkhart says:

    I have a question? Me and my husband have been married almost 10years. He adopted four I my children from my 1st marriage in 2008. All through his active duty life they have been set in DEERS as de pendants as well as myself. When he retired due to diaibility at 100% all across the board, for alms reason thy are only paying for my husband and only two of his biological children. He has three biological children. We filed to add myself, his child, and my four children that he adopted in 2008 to the dependency claim 2 1/2 years ago. It is past due and we keep gettin the run around. Will this system work for us?

  23. LaMargaret McArthur says:

    Hi. My situation…I am over 30% since 1992. I adopted a son. I submitted his SSN and birth certificate showing I am his mom. My local VSO said I didn’t need to submit the adoption papers. After thinking a bit about it, I did go on ebenefits and upload the adoption papers just in case. My dependency claim shows receipt on 12/20/2012 and an estimated complete of 11/19/2013. It is now 04/18/2014. Still not completed. I do have an appeal in that is currently at the VBA. Not related to my son. I have vaguely heard if you have an appeal in (which it has been for several years) no other claims can be worked for you. If I use ebenefits to add my son now, will it still take quite a while since it falls into the category of having to be manually reviewed since he was adopted? I am concerned it may still take another couple of years to adjudicate my claimon on appeal and it leaves me continually waiting to add my son. Would it at some point be retro since the original claim in December 2012 if I added him through ebenfits? Or it best to just wait on the original 12/20/2012 claim? And as one VSO stated, considering it a non-interest bearing savings account….. Your recommendation?

  24. Burkhart says:

    So, What if you already have claims pending, but then start this new claim in the manner of how your report says. Does this mean we loose our back pay for other claims of the same dependency change that was file a year or two prior?? How does this new claim affect those still pending?? We have been waiting for almost two years to add My wife and five of our seven children to my claim, and we have heard nothing for two years and get the run around everytime we call. So if i add my claim AGAIN through this service available now, will it change my affective date for retroactive pay due? I mean, it sounds great and all to have a system worker faster to pass all these claims through, but at what cost to us? a lost in pay owed?

  25. Edwin says:

    I tried twice to submit my dependency claim electronically this evening and I keep getting an error (error code VDC-11f7f002 and VDC-4356f002) and to call VA. I submitted correct paperwork to VA in 2011 but they are paying me as unmarried and only 2 children. I resubmitted paperwork last year but still nothing so I am trying to do it this way. Even if I am not being paid back pay so far, at least it can be right each month until they get to the back pay. Either way will help my family very much. BTW- I am at 80% rating. Can someone explain if this is really going to or supposed to work or when I should try and submit again? Frustrating to say the least.

    • Edwin says:

      So, I tried again this morning and it accepted but then says something about change in status needs further review. This is after it said I had no errors and no warnings and everything was accepted. Is this normal and how do I know if RBPS updates my request to add dependents?

      • DeMarcus Stokes says:

        I was told the same thing and I don’t understand. Is it automatic or does it take couple of days/ or months?

  26. Edwin says:

    BTW, it did tell me all info I put in was correct,, no errors or anything, its at the last page where you electronically sign and then submit paperwork, it looks like its going to take then comes back with an error code.

    • Edwin says:

      This is all wrong if you ask me,..we submitted on 4/24, it was closed on 4/24. Called VA to see what happened because all Ebenefits say is that a letter has been sent and I cant see anything else and they said they dont see anything, they didnt even know what I was talking about. Said they only show the dependency claim thats been sitting for a year now. They said there is no way to do this, I told her what this says and the instructions on what to do and she said there was nothing, read me a script on claims taking 8-10 months or 229 days, blah, blah, blah. I explained this is under VA’s website so its supposed to be true right? Same old, same old…goes back to everything, never believe the internet….I dont know what to believe, wish VA could get it together…families and people are hurting, smh, its a shame.

  27. Domenic says:

    Catherine,

    Last June (2013) I inquired via the 1-800 number about submitting claims for increase/ 38 USC 1151 claims for 8 different issues. I submitted my claims in August via eBenefits. At that time, I also submitted VA Form 21-674 to keep my daughter (who was turning 18 in September 2013) on my award. My daughter has been enrolled in college since August 2013, so there is continued entitlement.

    In October 2013, I noticed via my check that my daughter had been dropped off my award since she was over 18. Since I had already submitted the necessary information, I contacted the 1-800 number. Ihave been told that the claims are “under development” and processing time is 16-24 months!!!

    I have called 4 separate times, (most recently this week) to inquire and I have been told that all of the claims are “under development” and I need to consider the claims process like “being on a treadmill…and I am on the back of the treadmill”, so I need to wait my turn to get the claims processed.

    I can understand there is a backlog of disability claims, and as a former VBA (C&P) employee I fully understand the delay…but I cannot understand why the dependency claim cannot be processed separately??

  28. DeMarcus Stokes says:

    Hello, I had my wife on the paperwork from the start and she wasn’t added. So i called the 1800 number to call her and start a claim which been in the system for 15 months now. Since the RBFS been up i submitted one online and it didn’t work for me at all. I call again and was told to make sure every block was full but online it take you step by step and it still didnt work for me. I don’t understand why the system not letting add her and we been married for 10 years. I now have 4 claim in the system for the same thing. The claim that is 14 months old is still on the first tab no movement or updates to it at all. Any advice for me would be greatly welcomed.

    • Peter Granato - VBA says:

      RBPS will not work in every situation. We are working to expand the automation but currently some situations still require a manual review. Some of the situations include adaptions, step children, college age children and those who have been previously married. A processor will review and approve your request and you will receive back pay to the date of claim.

  29. Scott Humphrey says:

    Ok I have been dealing with adding my wife and 2 step daughters since Aug 9th 2011. I have been told (E-Benefits) that my claim was estimated to be done by June 2012, then in June 2012 it changed to Dec 9th 2012 when I call on Dec 10th 2012 I was told it was changed to Dec 27th 2012 due to a computer problem. When January 2013 rolled around I call again and like all the other times I would be told it changed or the date would change a few days after I would call to enquire on the claim. A week after that call I checked E-Benefits and the date had changed to Feb 2013. This date stayed on E-Benefits until I received a letter in Nov. 2013 stating they need the date and place of my divorce along with the dates and place where my wife was divorced. Now listen to this why they would need this information if I sent copies of all that paperwork along with birth cert. and SSN with the first time I submitted the claim in Aug. 2011. Nov 12th 2013 I sent the written statement that I was ask to send with that information and how do I know it was that date, anyone can see what the sent to the VA threw E-Benefits. well in Dec 2013 I received a letter saying that my claim was denied due to that I did not send the required information that was asked for in Nov. WOW at this point I was like what are they just waiting till I DIE and then they don’t have to pay for my wife and kids to be added. Well I called and walked the VA rep there the system and showed her in black and white on their web site E-Benefits when it was received. Now I have a new claim started and guess what the estimated completion date is now Dec 2014. UNSAT as of June 1st I will be contacting the local Media and explaining my situation and to anyone else that will listen and publish what us vets. Have to go through to get what is rightly ours. I estimate as of Apr 2014 the VA owes me over 8000 dollars. I know if I owed the VA money they would take it out of my retirement pay; how I know this well I did owe the VA money for my VA education overpayment. Totally unsat and I think it’s time that the country hears how us Vets are done. Thank you for allowing me to post my situation and hope more Vets also do as I’m about to do in June.