GAO: VA's $1B benefits management system still a work in progress

By Jack McCarthy
07:46 AM

Despite receiving $1 billion in funding six years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to fully implement its benefits management system, and is not yet able to completely support disability and pension claims processing and appeals, according to a Government Accountability Office report.  
The GAO said the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) within the VA has made progress in developing and implementing the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), with deployment to all of its regional offices as of June 2013. 

The report further said that while 95 percent of records related to veterans' disability claims are now electronic and reside in the system, additional capabilities have not yet been completed, including automation of the steps associated with a veteran's request for an increase in benefits.

In addition, the VBA has not yet developed and implemented pension processing capabilities in VBMS, nor has it articulated when the system will support appeals processing.

The system was originally targeted for completion in 2015.

"Although development of the system is expected to continue beyond 2015, the incremental approach VA is using to develop and implement VBMS has not yet produced a plan that identifies when the system will be completed and can be expected to fully support disability and pension claims processing and appeals," the GAO report said. "Thus, it will be difficult for VA to hold its managers accountable for meeting its time frame and for demonstrating progress."

The GAO recommended increased management attention be focused on cost estimating, where the program office does not have a reliable estimate of the cost for completing the system. It also recommended management focus on system availability, saying that although VBA has improved its performance for ensuring the system is available to users, it has not established system response time goals. Also cited were system defects, as unresolved defects continue to impact  system performance and users' experiences.

The VA has also failed to set goals for the project. "Specifically, without having established goals to define user satisfaction," the GAO said, "VBA does not have a basis for gauging the success of its efforts to promote satisfaction with the system."

The report explained that the VA has accepted the recommendations and has developed an action plan to take in response, except for finishing an outline for completing the VBMS.