Digital Records Will Lead to Faster Disability Claims Decisions, VA Says

Claims piled up at the VA Regional Office in Winston-Salem, N.C. (VA Office of Inspector General)
Claims piled up at the VA Regional Office in Winston-Salem, N.C. (VA Office of Inspector General)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has completed a major effort to replace millions of paper files on benefits and disability claims with easily scannable electronic records in the ongoing battle to cut the backlog of cases.

In a release Tuesday, VA officials said that a "significant modernization effort" over the last 21 months led to the removal of 7.8 million paper files from 60 locations within the department in the switch to electronic claims processing systems.

"This will lead to faster claims decisions for veterans," the release said.

In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the effort "will not only improve VA's claims process, it will also lead to quicker decisions for veterans because millions more records will be available electronically."

Once the paper files are inventoried, officials say they will be scanned into the VA's Veterans Benefits Management System.

Officials said in the release that going from paper to digital will also save money, citing the removal of millions of paper files from the Records Control Division (RCD) of the Records Management Center (RMC) in St. Louis.

The VA is now working with the General Service Administration, which owns the complex that houses the Records Management Center, to return the leased warehouse space for the paper files to the GSA, according to the release. The move, officials said, will save nearly $1.8 million per year.

The VA's announcement on the removal of the paper files followed on a report last month from the VA's Office of Inspector General which found that VA officials had "significantly understated the number of claims awaiting decisions for over 125 days."

In early September, the VA estimated the number of backlogged claims and benefits cases at about 86,000, but the IG's report said that the VA's estimate only covered about 79 percent of the cases that should have been listed as backlogged, or awaiting decisions for more than 125 days.

"Ineffective oversight and training due to lack of national performance and training plans for Claims Assistants resulted in inaccuracies that also affected the backlog," the IG's report added.

In response to the IG's report, VA officials said they were "reviewing how best to supplement or adjust reporting on the ratings-related backlog."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.

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