VA’s OIG Says VBA Needs Plan
Add another scathing report to the ever-growing stack of investigations concluding the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can’t get it right when it comes to providing disability benefits to our Veterans in an accurate and timely manner.
In a sharply critical new analysis of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) effort to switch to paperless claims processing, intended to speed up processing and reduce mistakes, VA investigators concluded that VBA’s highly touted new computerized claim processing is actually slowing the process for Veterans and that it may not work.
The OIG found… that [with the new computer system] it actually took longer to process a claim than VBA’s old paper records system
VBA’s new Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) has no implementation plan, a critical obstacle to completion of the project on time, within budget, and performing the intended tasks.
In our blog two weeks ago, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised similar serious concerns about VBA’s computerized claim processing because it lacked a plan. With 41 different projects, no one, not even VBA or auditors, knows if the combination of reforms will improve, harm, or have no impact on VBA’s inventory of disability claims.
VA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concluded that the new $500 million computer system has “performance issues” that include disorganized electronic claims folders and improper management of hard-copy claims.
The OIG found in its review of the four regional offices where the new computerized system was deployed under a pilot program that it actually took longer to process a claim than VBA’s old paper records system, according to the Washington Examiner, which reported that frustrated workers at those offices often reverted to the old system because they couldn’t get VBMS to work properly.
A report by Nextgov said VBA plans to deploy the new electronic system to 14,400 VBA claims examiners this year. The number of claims processed under the new system is unknown.
The OIG has recommended that VA “establish a plan with milestones for resolving system issues and develop a detailed approach to scanning and digitizing claims so that transformation efforts do not adversely affect claims processing and add to the existing backlog.”
In addition, VA’s OIG said auditors can’t tell if the new system will perform as promised: processing claims in less than 125 days with an error rate of two percent.
“However,” noted the IOG report, “given the incremental system development approach used and the complexity of the automation initiative, VA will continue to face challenges in meeting its goal of eliminating the backlog of disability claims processing by 2015.”
That disability claims backlog, tragically, is now near 1 million, with delays averaging nine months, with an error rate between 14 and 30 percent.