04/23/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Fixing Washington Now: First Results From Dept. of Veterans Affairs


The deal is that Veterans Affairs has a lot of rank-and-file people who know what's going on, and how to fix a lot of customer service processes. VA leadership has given them the means to figure stuff out, and is making real improvements in the way they do benefit claims, and in the way they move forward as an organization.

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Vet Bloggers Storm America's Second Largest Agency

Dr. Peter Levin [is] the Department's Chief Technology Officer. Simply put, Dr. Levin is the guy who has been charged with fixing the VA's claims process. As explained to us, to say that the current processing system is antiquated is an understatement. Most claims are currently processed manually and stored in hard copy in filing cabinets with little automation beyond the VONAPP online processing that we Veterans are oh-so-fond of (/snark). Dr. Levin's job is to change that and implement automated systems that make the process more simple and more efficient.

Speaking about the G.I. Bill specifically, Dr. Levin stated that "From the Veterans perspective, it's just going to be better. It's going to be a simpler process with more reliable outcomes, meaning that Vets will know when they are going to get their check and for how much their check will be. We're essentially automating very complicated rules."

The VA just announced the winners of the grassroots innovation effort:

  • Milwaukee VA Regional Office:  Streamline the administrative process for documenting actions to obtain evidence for disability claims.
  • Philadelphia/Wilmington VA Regional Office:  Simplify the evaluation process for Veterans claiming pension benefits with aid and attendance.  
  • Atlanta VA Regional Office:  Establish an expedited claims process for Veterans who claim an increase in their service-connected disability based on worsening symptoms.
  • Pittsburgh VA Regional Office:  Lessen the need for VA medical examinations by providing Veterans with standardized medical questionnaires to be completed by their treating physicians.
  • Togus (Maine) VA Regional Office: Align employee performance standards with Department of Veterans Affairs' goals.
  • St. Louis Records Management Center:  Provide regional offices with digital images of claims-related records held in VA's centralized storage facility in St. Louis.
  • San Diego VA Regional Office:  Develop a computer application to calculate entitlement to additional benefits payable to Veterans with the most serious injuries.
  • San Diego VA Regional Office:  Update VA's computer systems to facilitate communication between VA employees and Veterans.  
  • VA Central Office/St. Paul Pension Management Center:  Implement rules-based processing for VA pension programs and other benefits.
  • Phoenix VA Regional Office:  Make it easier for Veterans to establish service connection for specific medical conditions.

Building on that success, they announced the "Innovation Initiative" Underway for Health Records Improvements:

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki launched the "Veterans Health IT Innovation Initiative," an employee-based Health Information Technology (HIT) competition to spur VA's transformation into a 21st Century organization that is Veteran-centric, results-oriented, and forward-looking.

"This competition is rooted in the simple belief that the people who work on the front lines of VA know best how to improve health care and quality, access, and transparency in service to our Nation's Veterans," said Secretary Shinseki. "At VA, we always want to look for new ways to improve the care we deliver."

From now until Feb. 28, Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and Office of Information & Technology (OI&T) government and contract employees can submit their innovative ideas, comment on ideas, and vote on ideas. One hundred of the ideas will be selected and employees will be invited to submit full proposals.  

"We're looking to bring innovation back to our Health IT systems," said Roger Baker, VA's Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology. "This initiative will tap into the incredible talent across VHA and OI&T."