Officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs said they’re creating a new system to notify officials “within 24 hours” of any issues affecting electronically filed claims.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is conducting a full review of its website’s applications and features to identify technical issues following the disclosure that more than 100,000 veterans’ digital claims were not processed by their systems.
During a House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization hearing on Monday, VA officials said they implemented a ‘code yellow’ process to identify and monitor issues with the VA.gov website, including consolidating 56 automatic monitors into a unified “watchtower.”
Kurt DelBene, VA’s chief information officer and the assistant secretary for information and technology, told the subcommittee that the oversight approach “ensures a government employee knows about any significant issues within 24 hours.”
“So far, 80% of VA.gov’s most important features are monitored, and VA will complete automatic monitoring of the top features by the end of quarter one of fiscal year ‘24,” DelBene said.
The watchtower monitoring process was created after the department announced earlier this year that technical issues affected receipt and timely processing of some of the claims filed through its electronic filing system — in some cases for over a decade.
DelBene said VA identified a number of claims that were not processed by the department’s systems, including roughly 32,000 disability compensation claims and approximately 81,000 dependency submission claims. Some of the underlying technical issues that resulted in the delays had been unaddressed since 2011.
The panel previously held a hearing examining technical issues with VA’s website on Sept. 26, during which DelBene told lawmakers that the department would conduct “a full review of all VA.gov processing systems” and create “new system functionality” to alert officials when any electronic submissions were not processed correctly.
VA Chief Technology Officer Charles Worthington said the department’s new watchtower approach is designed to address these issues, in part, by giving officials “more confidence in the specific health of any given feature at any given time.”
“Because VA.gov is such an expansive product with so many aspects, this will give us a way to know more proactively if there's an issue happening impacting one of those features,” he said.
But given the scope of the problem, as well as the amount of time that the technical glitches and software issues were allowed to occur in the first place, some lawmakers expressed skepticism about the quality control aspects of VA’s watchtower process.
Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont. — the subcommittee’s chairman — said the number of veterans affected by the site’s technical issues “now exceeds 120,000” and added that, “It’s unacceptable that some of these errors persisted for years before anyone discovered them.”
Rosendale said he would be introducing legislation — which he called the VA Watching Over Electronic Benefits Act — to ensure that the department’s watchtower program “performs as intended.”
“We all need to be confident that errors in VA.gov and other systems will never again be allowed to compound undetected and impact so many people,” he added.