Burr said his own experience in running a paperless office shows he can now monitor things like how much mail has been received and how fast it is answered, which lets him evaluate his own staff. The ability to monitor workers “has to be a tool the VA uses,” Burr said at a hearing focusing on VA’s efforts to improve the speed and accuracy of claims by using information technology.
When VA will be completely paperless isn’t clear, but officials said the new Post-9/11 GI Bill program — the biggest and most complicated benefits plan since World War II — will use a fully automatic system for applications, approval and payments by December 2010, a test case for whether the VA can pull off a major transformation.
A lot is resting on the GI Bill program. “Failure simply is not an option with this program,” Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, the committee chairman. “When VA flips the switch on Aug. 1, 2009, to implement the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, all manual and IT systems must be in place and properly functioning so that eligible recipients get their checks on time.”
Perfection may be a little much to expect.
Keith Wilson, VA’s education service director, said the program will begin with both manual and computer processing. He expects to maintain a 96 percent accuracy rate for claims, and for all claims to be processed within 24 days of receipt.
“There certainly will be errors,” Wilson said. To keep mistakes to a minimum, each claim will be processed by one person and reviewed by a senior claims employee, he said. “We will go to the ends of the Earth to make sure we do not make erroneous payments.”
Akaka and Burr support moving to a paperless claims system for all disability, pension and benefits claims to speed processing and cut errors.
“Timely and accurate processing of disability claims remains a problem,” Akaka said. “Hiring and training more claims adjudicators is important, but this will only take us so far. The department must continue to work toward improving the claims adjudication process.”
What happens with the Post-9/11 GI Bill and its conversion to a paperless system will determine what happens with other VA claims. Stephen Warren, acting VA secretary for information and technology, said once the 2010 deadline is met for the paperless Post-9/11 GI Bill program, the same system will be modified to apply to other veterans’ educational benefits programs. “This will ensure that all veterans, from the generation of World War II veterans to the latest generation of beneficiaries of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, will benefit from this technological advancement,” Warren said.
Burr said VA has to keep pushing for computer solutions to problems because a paperless system will be faster, make fewer errors and reduce inconsistencies in claims decisions, especially in deciding the disability rating for veterans. “State-of-the-art IT solutions must be part of the change,” he said.