It’s great to see how access is changing since the end of my service with the 82nd Airborne Division and U.S. Army Special Forces when a parachute accident ended my military career. Ever since then, I’ve had to learn how to navigate VA. While I now work for VA, I’m still just like many of you. When I got out of the service, I didn’t have a clue about VA or how to navigate the system. Anyone who has ever served in the military knows a bit about the concept of “hurry up and wait.” My experience as a service-connected disabled Veteran trying to access benefits was no different. But I’m here to tell you, I believe VA is changing and while it is not perfect, we’re stepping up to give you the service and support that you have earned and deserve.
For years now I’ve listened to my fellow Veterans, service members and their families talk about VA and ask, “Why can’t the process be easier and less cumbersome?” or, “When is VA going to modernize and improve customer service?” People want better, easier and faster access to services and benefits. Yet as much as I’ve heard some people complain, I’ve also met a ton of folks who still don’t know anything about VA and the benefits they are entitled to. There are more than 22 million Veterans in the US and yet only 8 million currently use VA in some form. We know that 73 percent of Veterans who do use VA want to connect via online, but many still don’t know about what online resources the VA offers.
VA has been working hard as part of our Veterans Relationship Management (VRM) initiative to fundamentally transform your access to VA benefits and services. A big part of this effort is the eBenefits web portal. eBenefits is a joint VA & DoD initiative that gives Veterans, service members and their family members free, 24/7 access to more than 41 VA & DoD-related self-service features, with more coming each quarter. eBenefits is the single online source for lifelong access to VA & DoD benefits information. More than 1.4 million users are now registered on eBenefits, but we need to ensure all of our fellow veterans are registered.
Now I realize eBenefits is not perfect, but I also know firsthand that the access and capabilities now being provided didn’t even exist a couple of years ago. There are also a lot of dedicated folks working hard every day many that are also fellow Veterans and Disabled Veterans to try and give us what we need and have been asking for.
I know the biggest complaint we still get is about how hard it is to find out about the status of your claims. You should know that nine thousand people are checking their claims status every month on eBenefits. Are you one of them? Do you know that with eBenefits you can submit your benefits claim electronically, monitor VA benefits payments, view scheduled VA appointments, get a civil service preference letter for federal hiring and much more?
I know that many Vets and transitioning service members are looking for jobs and soon you’ll be able to search for jobs within the VA, receive employment counseling, and apply for VA Compensation Benefits using a wizard style tool. We’ve also just launched a new feature to streamline the eBenefits registration process and make verifying your identity easier. You can now obtain your premium account all on-line using the registration wizard, which means you no longer have to visit a VA Regional Office or call the 1-800 number that is hard to get through and why I like the on-line ability with additional features getting delivered every quarter. We’re constantly listening to your feedback to improve the site and give you more of what you want and need.
Now yes, I work for VA, but this isn’t just about doing my job. For those that know me, I live it every day. I want to make sure you don’t have to go through the same things I did all those years ago. eBenefits is the easier way to connect with VA & DoD, and once you register, you have an account for life. Go to the eBenefits home page, check it out and register for your free, personalized eBenefits account today. I’m registered and I hope you will take the time to register as well. I need your help in making sure our fellow comrades are aware, so please pass the word.
Rob Reynolds is service-connected disabled Veteran and the Director of Benefits Assistance Service at the Veterans Benefits Administration.