The Department of Veterans Affairs is in the process of implementing a paperless method of filing disability claims.
However, it’s unclear when digital claims may begin in Central Texas, and some area veterans are skeptical about the VA moving to a paperless procedure.
In November, a Marine Corps veteran seeking compensation for flat feet was the first to file a claim in the new digital format. He filed the claim at the VA regional office in Hartford, Conn., the first office to switch to the Veterans Benefits Management System.
The digital, paperless system is now used in 18 locations around the nation and is to be fielded in all 56 offices by the end of the year, according to a recent report from the Washington Post.
The new system is to be “a lasting solution that will transform how VA eliminates the backlog in 2015,” according to a January news release from the VA.
“We recognize that too many veterans are waiting too long to get the benefits they have earned, and that is unacceptable. This is a decades-old problem, and we are implementing a robust plan to address it,” said VA Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “For our employees, (the Veterans Benefits Management System) will be a more user-friendly system that offers better access to decision-level information, rules-based calculators, and automated tools that help them process claims more consistently.”
However, going to the digital format may not be the best solution, according to some Killeen-area veterans and active-duty soldiers.
“To me, not really,” said Staff Sgt. Juevon Green, a Fort Hood soldier with more than 18 years in the Army. “They use computers, and things still get messed up.”
While digital claims might be more efficient, Green said there still should be a paper trail to track existing claims.
Killeen resident Shirley Adanandus, who is married to an Army retiree, said going digital may be harder for some older veterans.
“They get a lot of really old (veterans) that are really not computer savvy,” she said.
A look at the backlog
The backlog of claims has been a major thorn in the side of the VA.
At the Waco VA office, the average wait time for a veteran to receive a response to his or her claim from the government is 441 days, according to a December report from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit that keeps track of VA claim times.
Several other VA offices had wait times of more than 400 days, and Los Angeles had a wait time of more than 500 days, according to the report. Houston had a wait time of 350 days.
Last year, Texas committed $1.5 million to the Texas Veterans Commission to provide “strike force” teams for the Houston and Waco regional offices.
The eight-person teams are working to alleviate the nearly 69,000 claims pending for more than 125 days.
In pilot testing at the Salt Lake City and Providence, R.I., offices, the Veterans Benefits Management System cut the average time to process a case from 240 days to 119 The Washington Post reported.
An official with the Waco office said the staff there is planning to train on the new system soon, but he did not say when.
“Our approach to claims processing is being modernized to better serve veterans and address the complex claims our employees are dealing with every day,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki in the January news release.