Recently, I sat in a meeting held by Secretary Shinseki. The Secretary, Chief of Staff John Gingrich, and Deputy Secretary Scott Gould were being briefed on the state of VA’s claims backlog. Cue ominous music.
Here’s the thing: We know we have a claims backlog. And we’re working hard to fix it. The hard work was obvious to me when Secretary Shinseki summed up the efforts to break the back of the backlog in terms I understand, Mexican food.
The Secretary opened the briefing by reminding us that Veterans didn’t invent the process of applying for benefits. We did. Now, not only is it our job to help Veterans navigate the current system, we must augment the system by bringing technological advances and business practices together in one big enchilada. His words. Not mine.
Sitting on the side of the room, I smiled to myself. As old school as the sentiment is, Secretary Shinseki nailed it—we are striving to bring Vets the whole enchilada: integrated technological systems that provide easy access to the benefits Veterans are entitled to, avoiding another claims backlog, and chipping away at the backlog that already exists.
Two weeks ago, VA released the Fast Track claims processing system (see note below regarding Fast Track). Fast Track, to follow the Secretary’s analogy, is in the deliciously seasoned meat in your claims backlog enchilada; we can paperlessly process claims from end to end, rendering a decision precisely and quickly.
Fast Track will be used by Veterans who suffer from the newest Agent Orange Presumptive diseases (Ischemic heart disease, B cell leukemia and Parkinson’s disease) as a result of exposure to the herbicide during in country service during the Vietnam conflict.
The system is web-based. Veterans can log on to submit their information, supporting medical evidence and any other documentation needed to establish a claim. Doctors will also have access to the system, taking the Veteran out of the role as middle man between care providers and VA. Physicians can fill out the forms and submit them online quickly and easily. VA employees also win with Fast Track: Rating specialists will be able to log on to the system, identify outstanding information on the way to fully developing a claim and be given a suggested rating at the end of the automated process.
Are you a Veteran that isn’t so excited about a web based system? It’s okay, my Pappy, who was a Veteran, probably wouldn’t be either. You and your doctor can mail your information to our Fast Track Claims processing center. From there we’ll digitize your information—eliminating the massive amounts of paper that claims processors deal with and ensuring that your claim is processed just as quickly as those submitted online.
There are lots of other reasons to be excited about Fast Track, too. We’ve re-engineered the way we do business to make this automated process a success. We’re changing our culture to be a little more forward leaning—to make the process we created for Veterans easier. We also did the whole project in less than 150 days for $10 million less than we thought.
I would like to think that the next time I have Mexican food in our cafeteria it’s a way of celebrating one step to breaking the back of the backlog—to creating an enchilada of technological advances that benefits Veterans navigating our compensation and pension system. Advances that make your lives easier.
Have you used Fast Track? Do you know anyone who has? What do you think?
Note: Since the date of this post, the Fast Track process has been discontinued. eBenefits is the platform to apply for disability compensation and much progress has been made toward the goal of processing claims electronically. For more information about electronic claims processing, see this post about our 5-millionth electronically processed claim.