The Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded a new contract to digitize GI Bill services and improve customer service and streamline operations and benefits administration.
At a GovernmentCIO Media & Research event this week on Enhancing Veterans Care, Acting Under Secretary of Benefits Thomas Murphy said technology has become a “critical part of the process” of delivering benefits to veterans.
“In partnership with [VA Office of Information and Technology], we're modernizing the GI Bill process, the delivery of education benefits, claims processing and customer service for GI Bill beneficiaries by providing one stop online access to benefits,” he said during the event.
Instead of hampering workflow, the COVID-19 pandemic allowed the Veterans Benefits Administration increased productivity by 20% due to IT modernization. Prior to COVID-19, VBA processed 4,500 claims per day. Now it processes 8,500 claims per day, Murphy said, and 300 to 400 employees who used to open envelopes and file paperwork are now in more demanding jobs at the agency.
“We've invested heavily in a paperless management workload program which has improved our overall capacity,” he said. “That world 10 years ago was stacks of paper. Today we move that around with a press of a button. This allows us to maximize the workforce. It also allows us to prioritize claims and specialize certain types of cases to employees who have that unique training.”
According to Murphy, 2020 was the VBA’s best year ever. The pandemic forced the VBA to take a hard look at how it performs operations and make big changes.
“We took everything we had and converted it to paper, then at the entry point, converted it to digits,” he said.
One “big time-saver” was enabling veterans to directly upload their paperwork to VBA.
“If a veteran sends us paperwork today, we don't even touch it,” Murphy said.
VBA will also roll out an electronic virtual assistant based on an AI to help streamline customer service by scheduling appointments, issuing appointment reminders and facilitating documents submission.
“With this, I feel like we've stepped out of the 20th century and into the 21st century,” Murphy said of the technology.
The pandemic, he added, transformed the way the VBA does business and delivers care. Many in-person appointments are now virtual via telehealth, which has reduced processing times and the number of rescheduled appointments.
Going forward, Murphy anticipates IT and technology will continue to play an important role in veterans care. The American Rescue Act of 2021 includes $386 million to launch a COVID-19 Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program to provide unemployed veterans with up to one year of employment training and assistance.
“Our challenge here is rapid rollout and how we're going to leverage tech to meet requirements,” Murphy said. “Technology is going to be the way to get this done.”