BOISE – The U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs was in Boise Wednesday for a big announcement for veterans looking to file for a disability claim. It surrounds processing claims faster.
The big announcement changes the way veterans will file a disability claim. Since the claims began, everything was done on paper. Now, claims will be digital, cutting the time it takes to get a decision in half.
It’s called Veterans Benefits Management System. It essentially takes the claims process from paper to digital.
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said veterans in Idaho and across the country wait too long to receive the benefits they've earned.
"This has never been acceptable and that's why we're executing a robust plan that we've put in place over the last several years," said Shinseki.
That plan is twofold, process the backlog of unprocessed claims and develop a new system to process claims faster.
In April, Shinseki said there were claims filed over two years ago, and that was unacceptable.
Josh Callihan is a veteran who was injured in the line of duty. He's been through the claims process.
"When you leave the Department of Defense you're really not sure how it's going to work, they just tell you go to where ever you're from and get in touch with the VA and file a claim, and that's really about the most information they give you," said Callihan.
Nationwide, it currently takes an average of 290 days to process a claim. Callihan's claim took a year for the first decision, and another year for the appeal.
That long process coupled with the government now recognizing long overdue benefits created a backlog.
"It was the right thing to do, but it also added to the inventory of claims to be processed and the backlog deepened," said Shinseki.
Processing staff began working overtime in April and has since processed just about every claim older than two years. Couple that hard work with a new paperless program called Veterans Benefits Management System, and veterans should see their claims answered in four months.
"I think what veterans can expect now is a little bit more of a 21st century process," said Callihan.
In terms of processing claims faster, this new system appears to be working.
In February there were 80,000 claims processed. In May, the number of claims processed jumped to over 108,000.
That increase comes as staff is becoming more familiar with this new system.
And really the bottom line is veterans will know faster if their disability claims are accepted or rejected.
The Department of Veterans Affairs hopes to have all claims older than 125 days old processed by 2015. That's around the same time the transition from paper to digital will be complete.
To see the new system, click here.