When Veterans experience a disease or injury related to active military service, they may file a claim for disability compensation with the Department of Veterans Affairs. If a Veteran is unsatisfied with the outcome of the initial claim, the decision can be appealed. As of 2017, there were 470,000 pending appeals in VA’s legacy system, which take on average five years to complete. The Veterans Appeals Control and Location System (VACOLS)—which was created in the late 1980s on now-outdated infrastructure—tracks these appeals. With the passage of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 in August 2017, VA has an opportunity to dramatically improve the timeliness and Veteran experience of the appeals process. In order to do so, it must modernize outdated systems in order to meet the requirements of the new law.
Since before the passage of the Act, the Digital Service team at VA (DSVA) has worked to build a replacement for VACOLS, one component at a time. Rather than simply replicating VACOLS with modern technology, the DSVA team partnered with VA to rethink each aspect of the appeals process, including identifying inefficiencies and opportunities for automation, with the goal of improving timeliness and the Veteran experience. This agile approach to IT delivery, instead of a waterfall approach, allowed DSVA to quickly adapt to the passage of the Act and better prepare VA for the Act’s February 2019 implementation.
Caseflow Hearing Prep
In October 2017, DSVA began a pilot of Caseflow Hearing Prep with twelve Veterans Law Judges. Hearing Prep is a tool designed to streamline the work involved for Veterans Law Judges as they prepare for the hundreds of hearings they hold per year. The tool also impacts the hearings themselves as it enables judges to more accurately capture Veterans’ testimony during the hearing and efficiently share that evidence with the attorneys responsible for drafting Board decisions.
DSVA launched Caseflow Intake in October 2017. While the Act does not go into full effect until February 2019, VA began to implement parts of the law through the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) in November 2017. In order to successfully implement RAMP and adhere to the new case tracking and data reporting requirements created by the Act, VA needed to capture data in a way that it had never before.
After obtaining stakeholder approval, DSVA went from idea to product in one month and launched a minimum viable product to users at the end of October 2017, in time to ensure that the appeals of every Veteran who participates in the program are tracked accurately as VA transitions to a new process.
In November 2017, DSVA completed its rollout of Caseflow Reader, an evidence review tool, to every attorney and judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Review and annotation of hundreds or thousands of pages of documents constitutes a majority of the time spent issuing an appeals decision, so improvement to the efficiency of this task is a significant point of technological leverage for increasing the output of the Board.
Launched in March 2017, Caseflow Dispatch facilitates the transfer of appeals decisions from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals back to the Veterans Benefits Administration to ensure that benefits are processed and remand orders are completed. Previously, dispatched decisions were inconsistently tracked and processed which resulted in a subset of cases experiencing long delays. Following the tool’s launch in April 2017, the time to claim establishment for the 75th percentile went from 25 days to eight days.
Decrease in claims with mismatched documents
Labor years redirected annually
This project was previously chronicled in our July 2017 Report to Congress.