A problem that has been plaguing the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and Veterans alike is the time that it takes for Veteran’s disability claims to go through the system. Many times, it takes longer than a year to get the papers through the system and an answer to the Veteran about whether he/she qualifies for any sort of benefits. But that problem is about to become history with the introduction of the new eBenefits.
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 enables disability compensation claims to be processed faster in a more end-to-end electronic environment, and marks a huge milestone in the VA’s goal to change from paper claims records to a fully digital operating environment, and 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, and the VA is urging all 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.
“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 began entering their claim information in eBenefits. Each Veteran has up to one year from the date they started entering their claim to gather all necessary records and hit “Submit” to preserve their original date of claim. eBenefits also allows Veterans to upload digital images of records and evidence to support their claim, bypassing the need to 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. An FDC entails entering all available evidence at the time the Veteran submits his/her claim and verifying to the VA that they have no more evidence to submit. Veterans who file an FDC will receive priority processing over traditional claims, and the VA can typically process FDCs in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim. Best of all is that there is no risk to Veterans filing an FDC. If VA finds that there is a piece of relevant evidence missing from the claim, 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. Then, with proper authorization in a companion portal, the chosen VSO representative will be able to see the contents of a Veteran’s claim, track its status, and add additional information when needed. A Veteran and VSO Representative can even work on the claim at the same time while both are logged into the system, creating the opportunity for the VSOs to assist more Veterans in their homes.
VA will still accept claims in paper form, though processing may take longer than an electronically-submitted claim would. As of the summer of 2013, 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 an immediate receipt of information without having to wait for the scanning and processing of paper documents. In addition to filing claims online, Veterans who register with eBenefits can track their claim status and access information on a variety of other benefits, like pension, education, health care, home loan eligibility, and other programs.
A free Premium eBenefits account is required to file claims electronically. The quickest method of establishing a free premium eBenefits account is to complete the remote verification process through the eBenefits home page at www.ebenefits.co