Claims Processing is a High Budget Priority for VA

Published: April 17, 2013

BudgetVA

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ FY2014 budget request allots $2.5 billion for more efficient benefits processing through technology enhancements, improved business processes, and intensive staff training. This is a $294 million increase over 2013 enacted levels.

The VA budget request proposes to invest in the Veterans Claims Intake program (VCIP) that will allow for the conversion of paper to digital images into the Veterans Benefit Management System (VBMS); supports the completion of 1.3 million disability compensation and pension claims; and provides funding to complete 4.3 million education claims.

VA’s huge backlog of disability claims has received much negative press in recent months, coming under fire from Congress and veterans groups.  The backlog of disability claims crossed the 900,000 mark in March.  VA’s FY2014 budget request seeks to cure the backlog through investment in people, processes and technology.

VA plans to invest $136 million in a Veterans Claims Intake Program that will allow VA to directly receive and convert paper evidence, such as medical records, into a digital format for increased efficiency in claims processing.  Additionally, the budget also supports the continued development of a digital, near-paperless environment that allows for greater exchange of information and increased transparency for veterans, providing $155 million for the VBMS.  These overall efforts support VA’s pursuit of eliminating the claims backlog and achieving VA’s goal of processing all claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy in 2015.

VA hired the Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center Atlantic out of Charleston, SC to manage the strategic, tactical, business and technical components of the program execution back in 2009.  This SPAWAR office also worked on VA’s post 9/11 GI Bill education benefit program.  L3 is the prime contractor supporting SPAWAR on the VBMS program.  VA’s IG criticized SPAWAR for its 10-13% program management fees in a 2009 report regarding an interagency agreement with VA.

VA endured another unfortunate incident with VBMS last week, when VA experienced a series of outages due to troubleshooting of the VBMS rating module.  At the time, technicians were not able to provide an estimated time of resolution.

Tracing VBMS IT dollars back to FY2014 budget documents for more funding details is no easy task.  The Exhibit 53, the detailed IT budget document specifying IT investment by program name and line item, does not show an investment line item for VBMS.  However, it does show the Benefits 21st Century Paperless Delivery of Veterans Benefits which is described in its Exhibit 300 description as the primary software component of VBMS.  The Exhibit 53 and 300 both show an IT budget request of $108 million for FY2014.  The Exhibit 300 shows that $491 million has been spent to date on this program.

VA plans to finish the rollout of VBMS to its remaining regional offices in 2013.