VA pushes paperless benefits systems in 2012 budget

New Claims Transformation Plan aims to improve communications and provide more timely and accurate veterans services.

The Veterans Affairs Department next year plans to kick off two modestly funded information technology projects it views as key to achieving the paperless delivery of benefits promised by Secretary Eric Shinseki since he took office.

Shinseki repeated that promise on Monday when VA released its 2012 budget, saying, "IT is the key to bringing VA into the 21st century."

To meet that challenge, the Veterans Benefits Administration in 2012 will launch a Claims Transformation Plan with an initial budget line of $29.9 million. It will focus on improving communications between VBA and veterans and providing more timely and accurate benefit services.

The Claims Transformation Plan also will include contracts for vendors to obtain private medical records on support of veterans claims, VBA said, as well as metrics to help Veterans Affairs meet its goal of eliminating its claims backlog by 2015.

VBA also plans to have in place by June 2012 a new Veterans Relationship Management system to support communications with veterans by multiple means, including telephone, the Web, e-mail and information kiosks.

This system, with a proposed budget of $6.3 million in 2012, also will help VBA quickly identify individual veterans while sparing them the inconvenience of repeating their boilerplate personal information and will serve as an interface for access to multiple benefits, including health, education and direct compensation.

Veterans Affairs on Jan. 28 kicked off a procurement for the Veterans Relationship Management system and, in reply to a vendor question, valued it at $25 million.

VBA asked for a budget of $35.1 million for 2012 for its core paperless claims processing system, down $8.3 million from the $43.4 million requested in 2011. The agency deployed the Veterans Benefit Management System at its Providence, R.I., regional office in a pilot in November 2010. It plans two more pilots before rolling it out nationwide in 2012.

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