The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) processes more than 2.5 million claims annually in 58 regional offices throughout the United States. Under VBA's system, paper claims folders storing hundreds of pages were often misplaced or awaiting action on someone's desk. Processing a claim could take 90 days or more. Frustrated, the VBA turned to Highway 1, a non-profit, non-partisan organization made up of leading information technology companies, including Kodak Document Imaging. Working pro bono, Highway 1 applied modern information technologies to re-engineer business practices at VBA sites in Washington, D.C. and St. Louis, Missouri. Two Kodak Digital Science™ Document Scanner 7500s were used to digitally capture veterans' claims and related documents. The Highway 1 project ultimately earned U.S. Vice President Al Gore's Hammer Award for bringing efficiency to government processes.
Digitally capturing veterans' benefits claims and related documents
The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) accepts, reviews, and rules on all veterans' applications for disability compensation and other benefits, including education support, home loans, and cemetery privileges. The VBA processes approximately 2.5 million claims annually in 58 regional offices across the United States. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Washington Regional Office (WRO) alone handles 18 million pieces of paper each year. Some 40 million pages of documentation are housed by the WRO in four large file banks.
When a veteran called the WRO to inquire about his/her claim, a service representative often was unable to locate the claim folder, let alone determine its status. "Documents were maintained in paper folders, which limited the number of people who could access the data," said Jeryle Dorsey, Coach on the Highway 1 project. "Folders would get misfiled or held up on someone's desk awaiting action." Veterans were told they would receive a status report in seven to 10 days, and processing a claim could take 90 days or longer.
Highly motivated to improve service to veterans, VBA employees were frustrated by the lack of tools they needed to respond more effectively to the needs of veterans. The enormous volume of paper that employees were required to handle was demoralizing and impeded their efforts.
The VBA sought the assistance of Highway 1, a non-profit, non-partisan organization made up of leading information technology companies. Participating companies agreed to work pro bono on a pilot project to apply modern information technologies to revamp claims processes in two of the regional government offices. In addition to Kodak Document Imaging, Highway 1 put together a team that included Cisco Systems Inc., Computer Sciences Corp., Eastman Software Inc., IBM, Microsoft Corp., and Radian Systems.
The pilot project focused on a percentage of original disability claims at the WRO. The project was designed to implement changes within a case management team that handled approximately 300 cases.
To reduce the massive volume of paper VBA employees were managing, the Kodak Digital Science™ Document Scanner 7500 was used to digitally capture veterans' claims documents in electronic files that can be stored and accessed on a PC. The Scanner 7500's reliable paper transport and high throughput speed were key assets, according to Highway 1 Founder and Chairman Kimberly Jenkins. "You can put in small pieces of paper, frayed paper, even fragments of paper, as well as typed documents, and they just fire right through that scanner."
The Kodak scanners helped the VBA answer veterans' inquiries more quickly and increase employee morale. The new claims processing system earned U.S. Vice President Al Gore's Hammer Award for bringing efficiency to government and is being analyzed for possible use at VA benefits processing operations throughout the country.
"Kodak's Document Scanner 7500 provides the capabilities to process disability claims effectively," said Dorsey. "VBA employees now have the tools to perform their jobs more efficiently and respond in a more timely manner to the needs of veterans."
Joe Thompson, Undersecretary, Benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs, echoed the mission of service to veterans. "We've never been able to deliver the service that veterans have earned in a way that shows our nation's commitment to them," Thompson said. "I think this will give us the opportunity to do just that."