The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is focused on modernizing its aging technology infrastructure. From overhauling its electronic health records system to moving to the cloud, the VA has been busy.
One area in need of overhaul? The benefits appeals process. In theory, the process is fairly simple. Veterans apply for benefits and the VA makes its decision. But in actuality, it’s a bit more complicated. Frequently, veterans have to appeal the VA’s decision to get the benefits they feel they deserve. And with roughly 460,000 pending appeals on the VA’s to-do list, the process isn’t quick or easy.
VA, in partnership with the USDS, developed a new online tool to streamline the appeals process. The appeals status tracker focuses on increasing transparency, as well as deploying a user interface that is easy to use and allows Veterans to make informed decisions.
In designing the tool, the VA held focus groups with veterans who were familiar with the VA’s previous appeals process. The appeals status tracker now answers three questions the VA heard consistently during focus groups:
- What’s happening with my appeal and what happens next?
- What do I need to do?
- How long will my case take?
Veterans dealing with a compensation appeal can now view their past and current appeals issues. To improve speed and make sure veterans are clearly aware of their responsibilities, veterans can now receive alerts for deadlines when action is required, preview the next events in their timeline, and see estimates of how long it will take to reach those events.
Both the VA and USDS plan to roll out additional improvements in the coming months, including connecting claims and appeals information so that Veterans can see their whole story from the original claim through to the appeal decision. The new appeals status tracker also includes improvements to underlying VA data that will support future implementations of the Veterans Appeals Improvement & Modernization Act.
The VA has a long road ahead of it to achieve all of its modernization goals. But, every great journey begins with the first step. For veterans, streamlining and modernizing the appeals process looks like a step in the right direction.