Let’s face it, Veterans benefits processes haven’t changed much since the 1950s, but the world has changed around it. There are more benefits being bestowed every year from Congress. Modern conflicts, with multiple deployments for the same handful of people, have increased the number and complexity of injuries. Today’s wired generation of Veterans have an expectation for quick, automated customer service. While we are an organization full of tireless and dedicated individuals working to help Veterans every day, doing business the old way is simply not an option. President Obama, Secretary Shinseki and Under Secretary for Benefits Hickey are fed up with that status quo, and are committed to transforming those processes and transforming VA into an organization that works better for Veterans and achieves our Department wide goal of processing claims within 125 days with 98% accuracy. That’s no small improvement. From October through June of fiscal year 2012, VA averaged 245.2 days for the completion of a claim and 87% accuracy.
Today, we’re issuing a new report on two pieces of the Transformation puzzle: a revamped training model for our employees who work daily with Veterans’ claims and a radically overhauled quality assurance program at each regional office designed to quickly identify and correct errors in claims processing and provide on-the-spot retraining at the earliest possible stage in the process. As Brittany Piccini, a VA employee in Anchorage, Alaska, put it, “we are looking into the future instead of working in the past.”
Our new training program, known as “Challenge,” has already been implemented for all new hires and anyone changing duty positions within claims processing. Challenge Training is conducted in residence and lasts 8 weeks, depending on the level of the processing position. Over 1,300 claims processors have already received this training which allows them to complete 150% more claims per day with a 30% increase in accuracy. This improvement is a priority not just at VA headquarters, but also for our employees in our 56 regional offices across the country. Speaking of transformation, Mark Miller, an employee at VA’s Huntington, WV regional office, said, “I love being able to see our claims being completed, seeing pending numbers of claims decrease, and to be able to give the Veterans the help and service they deserve.”
Similarly, the implementation of Quality Review Teams (QRT) will allow VA to process claims at a faster rate with greater accuracy. Previously, claims were not audited until after they had been fully processed and adjudicated. Resources that could be used in the processing of claims had been used for “end-of-the-line” checks. Now that QRTs have been implemented at all 56 regional offices, claims are checked at three different points during processing, are corrected on the spot, and allowed to move forward resulting in fewer “end-of-the-line” errors and freeing resources for the efficient processing of disability claims. Melody Trainor, a VA employee in Fort Harrison, Montana, says that QRTs are her favorite of all of VA Transformation initiatives. “QRTs should have been done a long time ago,” she stated. Her coworker in Fort Harrison, Chad Pomelow, added that QRTs, “will save us time in not having as much re-work. The end result will be a more productive VA.”
QRTS and Challenge Training are just two of the many initiatives VA is rolling out over the next several months to reduce our backlog and modernize claims processing. Everyone in our organization, from Secretary Shinseki to the newest hire at our most rural RO, is committed to serving Veterans and making our claims process something we can be proud of, and more importantly a process that serves the needs of the men and women “who have borne the battle,” as President Abraham Lincoln said. Those that have worn the uniform of our country deserve nothing less.
Richard Allen Smith is a Web Communications Specialist for the Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Richard served on active duty in the United States Army from 2003-2008 and deployed to Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division in 2007.