The Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, rolled out a new system that allows veterans to submit their disability claims electronically.
The joint VA-Defense Department eBenefits portal enables veterans to enter claim information online using a step-by-step, interview-style application, with pre-populated data fields and drop-down menus.
“eBenefits is a very good thing; it enables a veteran to go into a computer system to file a claim and to see and monitor what the VA is doing,” said James Fischl, acting director of field services at Paralyzed Veterans of America.
The system also allows veterans to select a Veterans Service Organization like Paralyzed Veterans of America to represent them, Fischl said.
Fischl said the eBenefits portal links up information on a veteran’s claim with the Stakeholder Enterprise Portal – a system launched by the VA last fall that enables VSOs to submit claims and supporting documents without having to print or submit paper-based forms.
Veterans who select a VSO representative can use eBenefits to file an electronic power of attorney form, and once authorized, the chosen VSO representative can see the contents of a veteran’s claim, track its status and add additional information. The veteran and their representative also can use the system simultaneously, allowing VSOs to assist more veterans in their homes or even remotely, according to the VA.
The electronic filing capability allows any compensation benefits that are awarded to be effective back to the date the veteran started entering their claim information using eBenefits. Veterans have up to one year to submit supporting documentation to preserve that original date of claim.
The eBenefits portal integrates with the new internal Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), an electronic claims processing system that, once complete, is slated to house all of a veteran’s information and provide instant updates once changes are made, Fischl said. “Right now, there’s a lot of lag time,” he said.
The VBMS program is one of several efforts the VA is making to speed up its claims processing and reduce an outstanding backlog of claims. VA Secretary Erik Shinseki has pledged to eliminate the backlog and process all outstanding claims within 125 days and with 98 percent accuracy by 2015.
The VBMS has now been rolled out to 56 regional offices, and VA plans to upgrade and improve the system based on user feedback, and add additional features and tools that make it faster and easier to process claims.
The VA will still accept claims from veterans in paper format, but cautions that processing paper forms may take longer than electronically submitted claims. Starting this summer, the agency will scan all new paper claims and upload them into the VBMS so that they too can be processed electronically.
“All of these things are good things, but it’s a work in progress,” Fischl said. “They just have to refine it and make it work, and that’s a long-term process.”
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Benefits Department
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.