Mental health claims can now be verified faster and easier thanks to the Official Military Activities Report (OMAR) – a new tool that allows VA employees quick access to significant activity (SIGACT) data used to verify combat and other military participation in what could be considered stressful events.
The idea for OMAR came about when Chris Aragao, a supervisory Veterans service representative at the Providence Regional Office in Rhode Island noticed it was taking a significant amount of time to get the necessary information from the Department of Defense. He figured if VA could get this data and map it, VBA could significantly reduce the claim development process time.
“The power of OMAR is that it puts information that is helpful during the claims process in the hands of VA employees, streamlining customer service and eliminating duplicative efforts,” said Aragao. “Employees are essentially given a database of known events that occurred during some of our nation’s key conflicts and are able to verify them seamlessly, without needing to liaison with additional Federal entities.”
Aragao formed a team of professionals who collaborated to design and develop the database that currently includes approximately 250,000 significant events in Iraq and around 500,000 events in Afghanistan.
These events can be filtered by time, location and type of event. The reports are then displayed on a map with all known attacks in the area. Thanks to OMAR, the claims development process time is reduced by an average of 60 day as VA employees can now verify statements provided by Veterans without waiting for DoD to send the information.
The database also includes searchable datasets from base camp attacks in Vietnam from Nov. 1, 1964, to Jan. 28, 1973; scud attacks in Iraq from Jan. to Feb. of 1991; significant events in Iraq from 2003 to 2011; and in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2015.
The data available on OMAR is not a catch-all for all events that could have occurred in theater. It reflects what is reported and shared quarterly by the DoD in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act and DoD’s declassification procedures. Further research by the Joint Service Records Research Center or Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections may be required to verify a claim.
VBA will continue to add data as it becomes available, bolstering the database and allowing employees to more efficiently process claims.
“The power of OMAR is that it not only gives a report of all the events that occurred in an area on any given day, but it also gives a visual,” said Aragao. “This is a stark reminder to everyone that yes, these Veterans were in a dangerous area during a dangerous time.”
OMAR is named in honor of the late Gen. Omar N. Bradley, who was the General of the Army and served as the head of the Veterans Administration as it was called in 1945. He is quoted as saying, “we are dealing with [Veterans], not procedures; with their problems, not ours.” OMAR was developed in the spirit of Bradley’s words and VA’s current goals of modernizing systems and processes to provide better customer service to our Veterans.
The mission of VBA is to deliver non-medical benefits programs for millions of Veterans, including disability compensation, pension and fiduciary, education, home loan guaranty, life insurance, and vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits, and determining who is eligible to receive them. VBA comprises more than 23,000 employees and 56 regional offices nationwide. VBA distributes over $100 billion in Veteran’s benefits each year. To stay informed on VBA topics, visit https://benefits.va.gov/benefits/ and subscribe to e-mail updates. Visit VBA on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and VAntage Point.