July 2017 Report to Congress
Streamlining VA Appeals Processing
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
When veterans have a disease or injury related to service, they may file a claim for disability compensation with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If a veteran is unsatisfied with the outcome, the decision can be appealed. As of early 2017, there were more than 450,000 pending appeals in the VA. Appeals take, on average, three years to be resolved. For those appeals that are resolved by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board), veterans are waiting, on average, six years for resolution. Appeals are tracked by the Veterans Appeals Control and Locator System (VACOLS), which was created in the late 1980s on now-outdated infrastructure. Since VACOLS is not integrated with other systems and relies on manual entry of data, its limitations can result in lost appeals. Despite attempts to develop a successor, VA continues to rely upon this dated system.
The Digital Service team at VA (DSVA) has been working with VA to release one component of a modernized system, Caseflow, at a time. Rather than simply replicating the old system with modern technology, each new component of Caseflow is evaluated on the basis of timeliness and accuracy to determine if processes should be reworked during development. This agile versus waterfall approach to IT delivery ensures that new functionality is useful and meets users’ needs.
The DSVA deployed the first component of Caseflow (Caseflow Certification) in April 2016. This application ensures that the Board has all requisite information before they review a case, and that claims system data matches appeals system data.
In October 2016, a second new component, eFolder Express, began rolling out to improve the efficiency of retrieving appeal documents. This tool is now used to download more than 800,000 documents per month. At this rate, the VA is projected to save 17 years worth of productivity annually.
Caseflow Dispatch, the latest component to launch in March 2017, facilitates the transfer of appeals decisions from the Board back to the VA agency that processed the original claim to ensure that benefits are processed or remand orders completed. Previously, dispatched decisions were inconsistently tracked and processed, resulting in a subset of cases experiencing long delays. In April 2017, following the tool’s launch, that subset of cases saw their time to claim establishment decrease to 8 days from 25 days at the beginning of the year.
In April 2017, DSVA began pilot testing Caseflow Reader, an evidence review tool for attorneys and judges. Before issuing a decision, Board attorneys must review every document in a veteran’s case file. As review and annotation of documents constitute a majority of the time spent issuing an appeals decision, improvement to the efficiency of this task will increase the output of the Board.
This project was previously chronicled in our 2016 Report to Congress.