Roger W. Baker, the Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology testified today before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. The following includes excerpts from his testimony:
In June 2008, Congress passed the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, establishing a new education benefit program under chapter 33 of title 38 United States Code, which VA refers to as the “Post-9/11 GI Bill.” This was the most extensive educational assistance program authorized since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944.
When the Post-9/11 GI Bill was passed by Congress and signed into law, VA had approximately 13 months to develop a new, complex system to process the newly eligible beneficiaries under the brand new program. Since then, VA has provided more than $25.9 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit payments to over 911,000 Veterans, Servicemembers, and their families, and to the universities, colleges, and trade schools they attend.
Creating new processes to provide timely Post-9/11 GI Bill payments to schools and student Veterans was an enormous challenge – and we have continued to improve our processes to ensure Veterans’ transition to student life is as simple as possible – so they can focus on the most important thing, their studies.
As part of our efforts to improve Post-9/11 GI Bill claims processing and transform VA to a digital operating environment, we have implemented a technology upgrade that cuts in half the time it takes VA to process benefit payments for currently enrolled students when compared to this time last year.
The process, which we call Long Term Solution (LTS), is an automated, end-to-end claims processing system that utilizes rules-based, industry-standard technologies for the delivery of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits. If effectively takes human claims processors out of the equation – using computer systems to process claims.
The calculation of benefits paid under Chapter 33 is a complex process. LTS has over 1,600 calculation rules that support benefits for Veterans, Servicemembers, and transferees. Seven types of training are supported, including: graduate, undergraduate, non-college degree, correspondence, apprenticeship and on-the-job training. Up to six benefits are calculated per term, including: housing, books and supplies, tuition and fees and Yellow Ribbon.
LTS also supports the entry of unlimited service periods, enrollment periods, and changes to enrollment periods. Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients are taking advantage of their education benefits in a variety of different education environments – and time tables – and ensuring that all different types of GI Bill claims are processed quickly and efficiently was essential in building an automated processes.
The bottom line is LTS is working. Processing timeliness has improved significantly since implementation. At the end of January, we had approximately 86,000 claims pending, 50 percent lower than the total claims pending the same time last year. The average days to process Post-9/11 GI Bill supplemental claims has decreased by 16 days, from 23 days in September 2012 to 8 days in January 2013. The average time to process Post-9/11 GI Bill original education benefit claims in January was 34 days.
Veterans’ educational benefits are the vehicle by which many of our Nation’s heroes pursue their educational goals and successfully transition to civilian life. VA is dedicated to ensuring that Veterans are able to make well-informed decisions concerning the use of their benefits and receive a quality education. We will continue to work hard to improve our education benefits delivery processes and we will take the lessons learned in automating these education claims and use them to improve delivery of all VA benefits.
Samantha O’Neil is a communications specialist with the Veterans Benefits Administration.