More than 200 veterans packed a large hall in Fairfax, Va., Sunday morning, Feb. 17, eager for information about claiming the benefits they earned through their military service. But few of them knew history would be made there that day.
As DAV National Appeals Officer Shane Liermann presented an overview of what these veterans could expect entering the claims process, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) was working feverishly with DAV’s National Service staff to ensure the day would be historic.
After the seminar, Vietnam War veteran Phillip Walker rolled into the back room for his turn with DAV’s staff to begin his first claim for service-connected disability. The Marine veteran suffers from Parkinson’s and ischemic heart disease, which he believes are a product of his time in uniform.
He didn’t realize it at first, but his claim started unlike any other had before. Instead of filling out a stack of paperwork and mailing or carrying it to a Veterans Affairs regional office for time-consuming processing, he sat next to a DAV National Service Officer and completed an online power-of-attorney form, an online interview questionnaire and claims for disability. A few other forms and supporting evidence were easily scanned into electronic files. Those forms, and the information they contained, immediately flowed into the VA’s database, opening the file on the spot. Walker’s is the first-ever original claim that will be fully electronic from start to finish.
The VA believes this represents the future of disability claims processing, one that will replace an antiquated system that has buried those VA regional offices under piles of paper, delaying decisions and keeping veterans from receiving earned benefits in a timely manner.
In September, Hartford, Conn., became the first VA office in the country to switch to the Veterans Benefits Management System, or VBMS. The digital, paperless system is now used in about two dozen locations around the nation and is scheduled to be fielded in all 56 offices by the end of the year.
“The VA’s staff will spend less time searching for and transferring paper records and can spend more time processing veterans’ claims,” said National Commander Larry A. Polzin, who also is a retired NSO. “In short, all the relevant information about the veteran’s claim is available instantly to VA employees working on the claim.”
Transitioning to a paperless system is quite complex, especially given the vastness of the VA. “We hope the VA continues to work closely with us as they tweak the system, making improvements as it develops,” said Polzin.
“DAV’s staff has played a crucial role in developing a number of the new initiatives being deployed, and we look forward to continued progress in improved accuracy and timeliness,” said National Adjutant Arthur H. Wilson. “It is an honor for DAV to be the first veterans service organization to file a fully electronic claim on a veteran’s behalf.”