Technology in Place for Electronic Submission of Veterans’ Disability Claims

Technology in Place for Electronic Submission of Veterans’ Disability Claims

Capability Marks Major Milestone in VA Transformation to Digital Claims Process

WASHINGTON – A new online application from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) enables disability compensation claims to be processed faster in a more end-to-end electronic environment, and VA is urging Veterans and their Veterans Service Organization  (VSO) representatives to make full use of its capabilities to receive speedier decisions and reduce the backlog of claims. 

The availability of the joint VA-Department of Defense Web portal eBenefits, which now integrates with the new internal Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) electronic claims processing system, marks a major milestone in VA’s transformation from paper claims records to a fully digital operating environment, one of the keys to VA’s goal to eliminate the disability claims backlog by the end of 2015. VBMS has now been fielded at all 56 Regional Offices across the country, ahead of schedule.  VA will continue to upgrade and improve VBMS based on user feedback, and add features and tools that make it faster and easier to process claims. Instead of filling out and mailing paper forms to VA, Veterans can now use eBenefits to enter claim information online using a step-by-step, interview-style application, with pre-populated data fields and drop-down menus similar to popular tax preparation software. 

“There are so many advantages to making this move from paper to digital – for both Veterans and VA” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “Veterans can now file their claims online through eBenefits like they might do their taxes online.”

By filing electronically, any compensation benefits that are awarded will be effective back to the date the Veteran started entering their claim information in eBenefits.  From that initial claim establishment date, each Veteran has up to a year to gather all necessary records and hit “submit” to preserve their original date of claim. 

eBenefits allows Veterans to upload digital images of records and evidence to support their claims, bypassing the need to physically mail in personal records and wait for confirmation of receipt. VA is advising Veterans to gather and submit all relevant medical records and file a Fully Developed Claim (FDC) in eBenefits, which entails entering all available evidence at the time the claim is submitted and verifying to VA that they have no more evidence to submit. Veterans filing an FDC will receive priority processing over the traditional claims process.   VA can typically process FDCs in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim, and there is no risk to Veterans in filing an FDC.  If VA finds that there is a piece of relevant evidence that was not submitted by the Veteran, but is needed for a rating decision (like private medical records), claims processors will work to obtain that evidence on the Veteran’s behalf and process the claim in the traditional way.

Once logged into eBenefits, Veterans can also choose to have an accredited VSO representative assist with their claim submission by filing an electronic power of attorney form.  Using this new system, the chosen VSO representative, with proper authorization, will be able to see the contents of a Veteran’s claim, track its status, and add additional information when needed. A Veteran and his or her representative can even work a claim simultaneously while both are logged into the system, enabling VSOs to assist more Veterans in their homes or even remotely. 

VA will still accept claims in paper form, though processing may take longer than for an electronically-submitted claim.  As of this summer, VA scans all new paper claims and uploads them into VBMS so they too can be processed electronically, though without many of the benefits provided when Veterans initiate the process in eBenefits such as guided questions that help ensure complete and accurate information and the immediate receipt of information without having to wait for the scanning and processing of paper documents. In addition to filing claims online, registered eBenefits users can track their claim status and access information on a variety of other benefits, like pension, education, health care, home loan eligibility, and vocational rehabilitation and employment programs. 

A free Premium eBenefits account is required to file claims electronically. The quickest and most convenient method of establishing a free premium eBenefits account is to complete the remote verification process through the eBenefits home page, or use DoD’s common access card (CAC) to register for and/or upgrade to a free premium account.  Veterans can also establish an account by telephone at 1-800-827-1000, option 7, if they are in receipt of VA benefits via direct deposit, or by visiting a VA regional office or TRICARE Service Center (if they are a military retiree). For the location of the nearest VA regional office, visit www.va.gov and search the VA regional benefits office locator.

While compensation claims are pending, eligible Veterans are able to receive healthcare and other benefits from VA.  Veterans who have served in recent conflicts are eligible for 5 years of free healthcare from VA. Currently, over 55% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans are using VA healthcare, a rate of utilization greater than previous generations of Veterans.

This is the latest effort in support of the Secretary’s plan to eliminate the backlog. On May 15, VA announced that it is mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices through the end of fiscal year 2013 to help eliminate the backlog, with continued emphasis on high-priority claims for homeless Veterans, those claiming financial hardship, the terminally ill, former Prisoners of War, Medal of Honor recipients, and Veterans filing Fully Developed Claims.

In April, VA announced an initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for Veterans who have waited one year or longer.   On April 19, VA began prioritizing claims decisions for Veterans who have been waiting the longest by providing decisions based on evidence currently in hand that allow eligible Veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits quickly while waiting for theirfinal eligibility decision. 

For more information about VA benefits, go to http://www.benefits.va.gov.  For more information on VA’s Transformation, go to http://benefits.va.gov/transformation.

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VA BLUE BUTTON REACHES ONE MILLION REGISTERED PATIENTS

Blue Button Reaches One Million Registered Patients Cutting Edge Technology Expands to Empower More Patients   WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that, during the month of August, the one millionth patient has registered for Blue Button to access and download their Personal Health Record (PHR) information.   “Since President Obama announced the availability of Blue Button two years ago, VA has worked tirelessly with our sister agencies to make online access to personal health records convenient, reliable, and safe.  I am very pleased with our progress,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.    The Blue Button enables patients to assemble and download personal health information into a single, portable file that can be used inside a growing number of private health care electronic records–as well as those in the VA, Department of Defense, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and private sector partners.  The VA Blue Button PHR includes prescription history, the ability to review past appointments and medical history details, wellness reminders and emergency contact information. Because it is web-based, the information is available anywhere, any time.  Its security measures are identical to those employed by retail websites that accept credit cards.   “VA believes that patients are hungry for their health information,” said Peter Levin, VA’s Chief Technology Officer. “The simplicity of Blue Button makes it easy for other public agencies and Federal Employee Health Program carriers to participate.  Getting to one million registered users so quickly is a great validation for our team.”   The Blue Button will see even wider use as more non-profit organizations and health care industry partners, such as Kaiser Permanente and Aetna adopt it as an integral part of their customer health records.   One of the most recent Blue Button partners is UnitedHealth Group.   “We are just thrilled to see how Blue Button has expanded so quickly, both in the richness of its content as well as the number of institutions that have pledged to make their data available,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.  He went on to say that Blue Button has become the model of data liberation throughout the Federal Government.  “Data is the rocket fuel of job creation in the high tech sector.  Blue Button is just a terrific example of what people can do once we liberate their data – safely and privately – from our vaults.”   For more information on the Blue Button initiative, please visit:  http://www.va.gov/bluebutton/   # # #

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VA to Increase Mental Health Care Access through 200,000 Telemental Health Consultations in 2012

 

VA  to Increase Mental Health Care Access through 200,000 Telemental Health Consultations in 2012

 

WASHINGTON (June 20, 2012)– In a continuing effort to increase Veterans’ access to mental health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs has set a goal to conduct more than 200,000 clinic-based, telemental health consultations for all mental health specialties in fiscal year 2012.  This follows VA’s announcement last month that it would no longer charge Veterans a copayment when they receive care in their homes from VA health professionals using video conferencing.

 

“Telemental health provides Veterans quicker and more efficient access to the types of care they seek,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We are leveraging technology to reduce the distance they have to travel, increase the flexibility of the system they use, and improve their overall quality of life.  We are expanding the reach of our mental health services beyond our major medical centers and treating Veterans closer to their homes.”

 

The clinic-based telehealth program involves the more than 800 VA community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs) where many Veterans receive primary care.  If the CBOCs do not have a mental health care provider available, secure video teleconferencing technology is used to connect the Veteran to a provider within VA’s nationwide system of care.

 

As a result, Veterans can arrange appointments at times more in synch with their schedules.  The program improves access to general and specialty services in geographically remote areas where it can be difficult to recruit mental health professionals.

 

“As technology is improving people’s lives in many areas, telemental health is making access to health care and support easier for Veterans with mental health conditions,” said Dr. Robert A. Petzel, Under Secretary for Health.  “For example, one combat Veteran from Iraq cites telemental health as a critical factor in rebuilding her life and coping with the aftermath of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and military sexual trauma.  Telemental health offered her a safe and convenient setting to receive gender sensitive services that helped her fit back into civilian life after three months of therapy.”

 

Since the start of the Telemental Health Program, VA has completed over 550,000 patient encounters.  In Fiscal Year 2011 alone, more than 140,000 encounters were conducted with 55,000 Veterans via CBOCs, where providers at 150 hospitals delivered care to veterans at more than 500 clinics.

 

The Telehealth Expansion Initiative launched in May 2011 called for an additional 21 regional leads, 144 facility coordinators and 1,150 clinical technicians to VA’s workforce.  When fully implemented, the expansion will provide a potential capacity of 1.2 million consultations annually.

 

Video to the home is currently projected to grow to 2,000 patients by the end of fiscal year 2012, with 1,500 using innovative new Internet Protocol (IP) video connected to Veterans’ personal computers.

 

In addition to supporting these current programs, the VHA National Telemental Health Center in West Haven, Conn., has pioneered additional new programs that delivered 1,000 specialized patient encounters from mental health experts at multiple VA sites to Veterans throughout the nation.  These include over 100 compensation and pension exams, 700 clinical encounters to over 165 Veterans enrolled in behavioral pain treatment programs, and 200 clinical-video and telephone encounters to over 70 Veterans enrolled in a bipolar disorder treatment program.

 

This campaign is part of VA’s overall mental health program.  Last year, VA provided quality, specialty mental health services to 1.3 million Veterans.  Since 2009, VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent.  Since 2007, VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of Veterans receiving mental health services, and a 41 percent increase in mental health staff.

 

In April, as part of an ongoing review of mental health operations, Secretary Shinseki announced VA would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce of 20,590 to help meet the increased demand for mental health services.  The additional staff would include nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers.

 

For more information, on VA’s telemental health, visit the Office of Telehealth Services at http://www.telehealth.va.gov/.

 

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Processing of Retroactive Agent Orange Claims Nearly Complete

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 19, 2012

Processing of Retroactive Agent Orange Claims Nearly Complete

Milestone Allows VA to Refocus 1,200 Decision Makers on Claims Backlog

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that nearly 230,000 claims have already been processed for the three newest Agent-Orange related conditions through June 2012, including over 150,000 claims required to be adjudicated under the order of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  The near completion of these complex Nehmer claims enables VA to redirect 1,200 employees who were dedicated to reviewing the Agent Orange cases toward addressing the current backlog of disability claims.

“I am proud of our VA employees who worked hard to complete these Agent Orange claims, putting over $3.6 billion into the hands of our Vietnam Veterans and their survivors,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.  “We completed all of the Agent Orange Nehmer claims for living Veterans, and are now focusing on the fewer than 500 remaining that will benefit survivors.”

The Agent Orange claims stemmed from VA’s 2010 amendment of its regulations to add ischemic heart disease, hairy cell and other chronic B-cell leukemias, and Parkinson’s disease to the list of diseases presumed to be related to exposure to the herbicide used in Southeast Asia.

“While we work to transform how we do business through new processes and technology, at the end of the day it’s about taking care of our Veterans and their loved ones on the issues affecting their lives,” said Secretary Shinseki.

Given the complexity of the historical casework, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) allocated its most experienced decision makers, about 37 percent of its rating staff, to processing Agent Orange claims.  VBA’s 13 resource centers were exclusively dedicated to re-adjudicating these claims.

Even with this allocation of 37 percent of the rating staff dedicated to Agent Orange claims, VA processed over 1 million disability claims in each of the last 2 years, an unprecedented number. “Incoming claims over the last ten years have nearly doubled,” said VA Under Secretary for Benefits, Allison A. Hickey.  “Being able to refocus these skilled raters on the backlog is vitally important.”

In addition to redirecting its rating staff, VA has developed a comprehensive transformation plan to achieve in 2015 Secretary Shinseki’s goal of completing claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy.  The plan is built on more than 40 designed, tested, and measured people, processing, and technology initiatives.  VA is now beginning the nationwide rollout of its new operating model and electronic processing system, known as the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS).  All regional offices will be operating under the new model and using the new processing system by the end of 2013.

VA has established a website, www.fastrack.va.gov, to assist Veterans in filing claims for the three new conditions related to the effects of Agent Orange exposure.  It guides Veterans through automated, program-assisted menus to capture the information and medical evidence needed for faster claims decision.    Potentially eligible Veterans include those who were exposed based on duty or visitation in Vietnam or on its inland waterways between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975; exposed along the demilitarized zone in Korea between April 1, 1968, and August 31, 1971; or exposed due to herbicide tests and storage at military bases within and outside of the United States.

 

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World No Tobacco Day: The Day to be Tobacco Free

 
From: TRICARE Communications
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 12:13 PM
Subject: Featured Article – World No Tobacco Day: The Day to be Tobacco Free
 
 World No Tobacco Day: The Day to be Tobacco Free
May 23, 2012
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease-related illness and death in the United States. During World No Tobacco Day on May 31 the World Health Organization will highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use in order to educate smokers and encourage them to quit.

Read more at www.tricare.mil/mybenefit/HealthyLiving.jsp?fid=600.
 
Sign up for TRICARE e-mail updates at www.tricare.mil/subscriptions.
Connect with TRICARE on Facebook and Twitter at www.facebook.com/tricare and www.twitter.com/tricare.
The TRICARE Management Activity administers the worldwide health care plan for 9.7 million eligible beneficiaries of the uniformed services, retirees and their families.
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Army Lab Analyzes Bad Dust From War Zones


February 2012  

By Eric Beidel 

The Army Research Laboratory has deployed equipment to Iraq, Afghanistan and
Africa to find out if particles floating around in the air in these places
are causing Gulf War Syndrome and other illnesses.

The Aerosol Davis Rotating-drum Universal-size-cut Monitoring (DRUM)
instrument captures particles to create a library of samples that military
doctors and other researchers can access to determine air quality at any
given date and hour. The tool can pinpoint concentration of elements such as
lead, nickel, iron and sulfur, which often result in health complaints from
soldiers.

Every three weeks, drums are retrieved from overseas for analysis and
replaced with new instruments. Researchers want to create a kit that would
allow real-time analysis to see what is in the air and predict what may be
floating around soon.

The focus is on smaller particles that can get deep inside the lungs,
officials said. Larger elements “don’t ever get past your nose and have much
less of a chance of making you ill,” said Alan Wetmore, who works in the
Army Research Lab’s atmospheric sensing branch.

In addition to helping military doctors understand medical cases, the
research could provide a clearer picture of the threat of dust to soldiers
for those who design uniforms and masks for troops.

Starting this year, the lab began collecting samples at Camp Lemonnier,
Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, where the primary U.S. base is located
downwind from stadium-sized burn pits. Everything from tires to animal
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