VBA improves the Veterans experience: goes electronic on claims, reduces backlog and improves accuracy

Guarantees 2.5 million home loans, provides more than $1.3 trillion in insurance coverage and paid $5.5 billion in low-income pension benefits to Veterans


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Over the last four years, Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) employees have worked hard to serve our Veterans, their families and survivors and to move the organization into the digital age. This long overdue transformation resulted in improvements of historic measures that ultimately provided faster, higher quality benefits and services to our Veterans.

Accomplishments such as those brought about by VBA and its employees, when done at private sector companies, are lauded in the business pages of the Wall Street Journal. With an increasingly negative public narrative over the last five years, this story has gone untold; however, the numbers tell a story of incredible progress.

In just four years, we fully transitioned from a paper-based claims process to an electronic processing environment, moving from handling thousands of tons of paper each year to processing nearly 100 percent of disability compensation claims electronically. We drove down the backlog of disability claims 87 percent from its peak of 611,000 in March 2013 to just over 75,000 at the end of 2015 – without sacrificing quality. We improved claim-level quality from 83 percent to 90 percent, and on the individual issues inside the claim, it’s 96 percent. Thanks to these improvements, the average time it takes to complete a claim is 124 days.

Image of Danny Pummill talking with a wheelchair-bound veteran.This progress was made amidst an unprecedented increase in demand. In 2015, we decided over six million medical issues for Veterans – that’s 3.5 million more medical decisions filed by Veterans and decided for Veterans than we did in 2009. And it allowed us to put billions more in compensation and pension benefits into the hands of Veterans over the last six years, and nearly two million more Veterans are now receiving compensation than in 2009.

While our major focus over the past few years was on improving compensation claims processing, we also helped Veterans in big ways among our other lines of business. We currently guarantee two and a half million home loans for Veterans and their families and maintain one of the lowest home loan foreclosure rates in the industry at 1.24 percent. We’ve provided $64 billion to send nearly 1.6 million Veterans and their dependents to school under the Post-9/11 GI Bill® since 2009. We are the 11th largest insurance provider in the industry, providing more than $1.3 trillion in insurance coverage. In 2015, we paid $5.5 billion in low-income pension benefits to over 500,000 Veterans and survivors. Over 1,000 VBA vocational rehabilitation counselors across the country helped over 130,000 Veterans prepare for their careers last year.

As a 33-year Army Veteran myself, these milestones are personal to me and they’re personal to the Veterans and advocates who work at VBA, but mostly we know that they’re personal to every single Veteran out there who has been affected by them. The Veteran whose claim was processed in less than 125 days when he really needed it, and now receives monthly compensation for the injuries he sustained while he served, helping him pay his bills. The Veteran who could put a roof over her family’s head using a VA home loan. The Veteran who got a bachelor’s degree using the Post-9/11 GI Bill®  to build a better future. These are the real stories of the real Veterans VA serves. And these are the real differences VA can make in their lives every day.

These improvements do not mean we will stop working to provide the best possible service to Veterans. Far from it. While the major backlog push may be over, we’re still working to continue to improve Veterans’ experience with VBA – and we always will be.

Looking ahead, we’re focused on the Secretary Bob McDonald’s MyVA 12 breakthrough priorities and pushing forward on the priorities among them that are directly in VBA’s area.

That means we’re seriously looking at and testing ways to improve the Compensation and Pension exam experience for our Veterans. We’re modernizing our call centers and increasing the amount of claims processing we can do over the phone. We’re coming up with a way to simplify the appeals process, with help from our partners. We’re working to improve dependency claims processing for Veterans who need to add or remove a spouse or child from their VA benefits, and we’re ahead of our goals in many areas. We also implemented a National Work Queue to balance our benefits delivery to Veterans nationwide, no matter where they live.

We’re doing all of these things to meet one two-part bottom line: to improve the Veteran experience and the employee experience. We can’t have one without the other. A positive experience for employees enables us to provide a positive Veteran experience.

Every day, I feel honored and privileged to fulfill VBA’s mission for our nation’s Veterans, and I am continually impressed by VBA employees’ dedication to do whatever it takes to give our Veterans, their families and their survivors the best quality service.


headshot of Danny PummillDanny Pummill is VA’s Acting Under Secretary for Benefits. 

Author

Danny Pummill

Danny Pummill was appointed Acting Under Secretary for Benefits in the Department of Veterans Affairs on Oct. 19, 2015. In this position, he leads more than 20,000 employees in the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) in the delivery of non-medical benefits programs for Veterans, including disability compensation, pension and fiduciary, education, home loan guaranty, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and transition, employment and economic impact. Pummill retired as a Colonel after a 33-year career in the United States Army. He served as an Adjutant General Corps Officer and an enlisted Field Artillery and Infantry soldier in a variety of assignments. He has served at every level in the Army from squad through Headquarters Department of the Army. Commanding two separate Battalions, his duties have taken him to Panama, Central America, Korea, Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East and various locations throughout the United States.

Comments

  1. Tony scisney    

    Thanks to all who help vets. Kentucky vets deserve answers too. Calls to va reps never get returned

    1. charles t carinda    

      I have an ongoing appeal claim since March 2014….seems we serve when called but when we vets call were not served….Agent Orange was no suprise….please help before diabetes takes me…

      1. William Roy Crowell    

        My claim filed in 2008 is now before the BVA. I am at the point where they are getting ready to decide if my appeal will be won, and then remanded back to the Cleveland Regional office for further review and determination.

        It took me almost 7 years to get my hands on hospital records the VA still had at the Louis Stokes VA hospital the whole time as they denied the existence of the records. Once a small amount of the records were found through an unorthodox method, the same guy (Manager of Records Department) after something like my 8th FIFO was filed, sent me an e mail that said, as I had been informed, the Cleveland VA could find no records of my 4 month stay there. I then had to send him a copy of an e mail from a person in his department that instructed me how to obtain a copy of the “found records”. I had to threaten to name him personally as one of the defendants in the lawsuit I was going to file against the VA for failing in their duty to support the Vets efforts to obtain records to prove their case. Five minutes after he got that e mail from me he somehow was able to locate the found records.

        Then I was able to locate rock solid proof of the stresser that occured while I was in the Army. One of the VA’s own Psychiatrist who in her report backed my claim saying it was as likely as not the stresser I claimed did in fact occurred during my time in the Army making my claim service connected.
        Yet armed with Two Docs who determined I am 100% disabled for work physically and for mental health reasons. So the dro once again denied the claim.

        Now a few days back I get an e mail from Military.com that states the VA has drastically reduced the backlogged claims. But the article goes on to say the backlog was for newer claims. The 450,000 claims older than 2 years are still on the back burner.Those older claims will not be covered under a new program that is used to clear the claims within something like 150 days from the date of filing. Certainly not fair and outrageous for those of us waiting all these years. With this abbreviated version of my case, is it any wonder why many Vets do not trust the VA?

        Now after roughly a year and a half of passing out 2 to 3 times a day due to blocked arteries, I have one more appointment for a test and then they will schedule me for surgery to replace parts of the arteries. I suspect the VA is in no hurry to treat my conditions as if I was to die it will save them all that back dated disability pay. Multiply 300,000 to 450,000 claims of back pay earned as we sit waiting for adjudication of our claims and it is significant dollars. If I or my colleagues were to die the VA could save all that money, rather than keeping their promises for lifetime care and or disability pensions. What a complete white wash the VA has done with VA Claims for Vets who enlisted and served their time before being discharged with an Honorable Discharge.

        Easy to see why this Vet has little faith in the VA with the exception of my primary care Doc, and the nursing staff I have been blessed with.

        BC
        Dec, 1970- to Dec 1973

  2. Robert Sarkisian    

    Mr. Pummel was suspended in March for “lack of oversight” in two other high ranking VA officials actions. He has now retired. In spite of the improvement in claims processing – the appeals process has continued to be abysmal. Veterans are waiting in some instances decades to have their appeals processed. When will congress and the VA improve the appeals process?

  3. kandi    

    Iam a homeless veteran who successfully completed a therapy program wher I reported sexual harassment and was immediatly discharged to a womans shelter & back on the streets homeless because I reported it!! Iam still cIean and sober, but scared, cold, and hungry. need help. My name is Kandi Meland, Honorable Woman Vet, homeless in Oregon.

    1. Mark Ledesma    

      Ms. Meland,

      I’m sorry about your situation. VA has taken aggressive steps to help our homeless Veterans. http://www.va.gov/homeless is a great resource for homeless Veterans seeking help from VA. You can also call 1-877-424-3838 to speak with someone who can help. Please comment below for any questions you may have. I’ll try to answer them to the best of may ability and get you the help you need.

      Regards,
      Mark

  4. Bobbystevens    

    Way to go big guys & staff don,t see how you do it without proper funding.again thanks for great service.bobby

  5. Charles Eugene Snelgrove    

    Where is ur appeal process? I sent an appeal and Notice of Disagreement almost 2 years ago and still no response. After almost threatening to get my Congressman involved, I was told (via chat) by one of ur reps that I was welcome to do that but the way the system works, my file will be pulled and then placed back on the bottom of the list; therefore, a further delay by starting all over again. Half the time the “chat” button does not work. My VSO just smiled. Nothing he could do. If my appeal is rejected, I have to start the whole process again. I am now 71 and therefore, would probably be dead by the time I got an answer. Especially since I have heart issues.
    Other than the appeals process, my VA doctors, cardiologists and my stay in the hospital a few times are all excellent. I was always treated with TLC and do so appreciate that, but then, again, the appeals process sucks big time.

  6. Michael A Turner Sr. 9639    

    I’ve been in a claims/ appeal process now for almost 4 years, it seen so strange because part of my appeal is for my depended daughter, graduated from High School in 2012 June, College August 2012, I’ve been back fourth with VA, proving that her colleges are approved by the VA, even through the College she attains are listed in the education section. I’m a retired Army Recruiter, who was the operation manager for the area College, and to date nothing from the VA, my daughter will graduate Sep 2016.

    1. Mark Ledesma    

      Mr. Turner,

      I’d like to see if I can help. Can you please provide the name of the college your daughter is currently attending?

      Regards,
      Mark

  7. Jorge Perez    

    My case is a sensitive 7 case (St. Paul Mn.) as a former employee. My Claim/Appeal has been in process since March of 2012-Still Waiting!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Thomas south    

    Discharged in 1975 medical reasons still waiting appeal is over 3 years old ow un employable from the same reason i was discharged from the usmc

  9. Verta Jones    

    My husband died from Multiple Myeloma. He was stationed at Camp LeJeune during the water contamination. Before he died he had filed a claim. I took the death certificate to the local VA Rep office. Didn’t hear anything from them at all for months. I decided to call the main office only to be told the claim/file was closed. The person I spoke with was very nice and told me I had to resubmit the claim. Why wasn’t I told that when I took the death certificate to the local office. The person sent me the form to resubmit, but I haven’t heard anything yet.

    1. Mark Ledesma    

      Mrs. Jones,

      First, I’d like to send my deep condolences for the loss of your husband. I’d like to see if I can help – which VA Regional Office are you currently working with? Also, are you working with any Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) to help you with the process?

      Sincerely,
      Mark

  10. Jerry Lee Tennant    

    No matter how much they try to polish the VA turd we vets in the system know the tricks they use to keep claims related information out of our medical records. They put every roadblock up that they can to make it hard for us. My primary care “Doctor” is as useless as the urologist I see. I drive 160 miles for appointments every six months that last for less than THREE minutes with him. He is the second useless one I’ve had. No matter what they keep claiming how they are getting better we know the truth. I’ve come to the conclusion that the policy is that it is cheaper and easier to bury veterans that give them the quality care that they deserve. Am I angry? Hell yea. I know several other vets that feel the same way, in fact every one I’ve talked with in our MH groups. I’ve had to go an outside civilian Doctor get help finding out what is causing my health problems. I’m starting to smell a class action suit.

    1. Michele R. Easton    

      I agree with you Jerry. Seems like each time a Vet goes for help, we are pushed back into the nightmare. My husband had a massive stroke in 2000 while on active duty. VA gave him only 30%. Which we all know that 30% comes out of his pension. Now we are fighting back and forth to get more disability. Should be interesting to see what happens with the video conference in Newark, NJ in July. If only Tricare would give us good doctors to see, maybe all Vets would make out better. My husband whole right side of his body, where the stroke affected in falling apart. I’m really upset and I won’t stop until I get what we need. My voice will he heard, not only for my husband but, for all Vets. WE all have to band together, to get things done.

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