Citing benefits like cheaper, faster and more accurate claims processing, officials from both agencies say this landmark agreement will make filing disability claims easier and reduce government administrative costs at the same time.
"Our goal is to provide the best customer service possible and make the whole process easier," said Joseph Thompson, director of the New York VA Regional Office (VARO). "Veterans who have already applied for benefits from Social Security wonít have to provide the same information to VA, and in some cases, can have their claims processed the same day."
Under the agreement, veterans applying for disability pension benefits may file their claims at the VA Regional Office. A case manager will then go on-line to access information on their Social Security benefit payments, proof of marriage, childrenís birth records etc., without veterans having to provide the same information a second time, and eliminating any delay caused by requesting proof through the mail.
In addition, the two government agencies, with written permission from the applicants, will also share certain disability information from Social Securityís records, thereby eliminating the need for some VA physical examinations. When fully implemented, the new on-line initiative is expected to reduce the average time to process a veteranís claim for non-service connected pension benefits from as long as a few months to just a few days.
Officials from the New York VARO and SSA have been working together since October 1995 to make sure the proposal meets all the statutory and regulatory requirements for both agencies. "Our primary concern, " Thompson said, "is to protect the privacy of all beneficiaries who apply for benefits at VA or SSA. The process we have in place ensures that goal will not be compromised."
Another benefit is that in phase II of the of the pilot, VA will be able to quickly and accurately access the amount of Social Security benefits a veteran is receiving. This will avoid possible overpayments that require recouping the benefits -- a burden to veterans and a costly administrative process for VA.
SSA has worked closely with the VA Regional Office and VA Medical Centers on numerous projects. Currently the agencies are cooperating on an outreach effort to homeless veterans. SSA Regional Commissioner Beatrice Disman said, "These initiatives are reflective of two premier government agencies devoted to providing world-class service to their customer."
The New York VARO was established as a Reinvention Lab under Vice President Goreís National Performance Review (NPR) . The Object of NPR is to reinvent government to make it work better and cost less.
Vice President Gore established the Hammer Award to recognize outstanding achievements in this government-wide initiative. The New York VARO won the very first Hammer Award for innovative changes in veterans claims processing. To date, it has been awarded three Hammer Awards.
/CONTACT: Benjamin Weisbroth of Veterans Affairs, 212-807-3420, or John Clark of the Social Security Administration, 212-264-2500/