Veterans Benefits Administration
Leaves Paper Behind on
May 3, 1999
for America’s veterans requires a lot of paper. But then, our nation
has a lot of veterans. Each claimant has a file folder; each folder
gets fuller and fuller as a veteran gets older and older. But does
it have to be that way? Can the Department of Veterans Affairs leave
paper behind as a new century approaches? The Washington, DC, VA
Regional Office is demonstrating an electronic workfolder system.
It may be the beginning of a paperless process.
By Pam Gates
Shortly after his confirmation
as VA’s Under Secretary for Benefits, Joe Thompson approached the
National Partnership for Reinvention (NPR) with a proposal to address
some of the technology-based claims processing problems in the Veterans
Thompson, well aware
of the perception that VA’s information technology had not kept
pace with the demands of claims processing, envisioned a public/private
partnership to look at the workload problems and develop solutions
that would mesh with existing IT platforms and ongoing development
efforts. He hoped this effort would ultimately restore the vitality
and credibility of VBA’s IT operation, once one of the finest in
the federal government.
Thompson approached Greg
Woods, Chair of the Government Information Technology Services Board,
who was then NPR deputy director. Woods was and is the principal
advocate for Vice President Gore’s Access America initiative to
use information technology to deliver services to the American people
and improve government productivity.
A visit to the Washington,
D.C., VA Regional Office (VARO), and a meeting with Director Fay
Norred and the Compensation and Pension staff, gave Thompson and
Woods a better understanding of a typical claims processing operation.
They then called on the General Services Administration and Highway
1, a consortium of high technology corporations, and secured their
involvement and commitment to a public/private partnership.
Highway 1, named after
the first U.S. highway designed to connect disparate communities,
is a nonprofit organization that serves as a nonpartisan resource
on information technologies for Congress and federal agencies; state
and local governments; international officials; nonprofit organizations;
and the public. Its mission is to educate government leaders about
how to use information technologies to improve efficiency and productivity
in their daily work environments, and to improve communication with
the American people.
To launch the project,
Highway 1 created an "Industry Team," composed of Eastman
Software, Cisco Systems, Computer Sciences Corporation, Kodak, Radian
Systems, IBM and Microsoft, to work on a pro bono basis to improve
the delivery of services to veterans.
and VARO Developed Electronic WorkFolder System
In February 1998, the
team, in partnership with the Washington, D.C., VARO, began developing
an electronic workfolder environment for processing compensation
The electronic workfolder
system allows veterans’ paper-based claims folders to be scanned
into the system, ultimately eliminating the need for paper.
In addition to reducing
the sheer volume of paper in a typical claims folder, this system
allows complete access to the information in the folder to anyone
with access to the electronic environment. The potential also exists
to reassign work electronically among regional offices.
Since the electronic
folder can be accessed by two or more employees simultaneously,
time once spent requesting or waiting for a folder is essentially
eliminated. The team took great care to ensure the confidentiality
of veterans’ records. All participating employees were issued an
access card, similar to a standard credit card, which allowed them
to use this system.
A demonstration project
is now in place at the Washington VARO and about 20 percent of the
original claims received are being processed in this electronic
environment. A formal study on expanding the system also is underway.
Projects such as this
will transform VBA into a premier customer-service organization,
leading the federal government as the world takes to the Information
About the Author
Pam Gates is a public
affairs specialist, VA Central Office (80F), 810 Vermont Ave, NW,
Washington, DC, 20420. You may contact her at 202-273-5700, or firstname.lastname@example.org.