The VA Is Trying To Go Paperless For Its Disability Benefits System, But Costs Are Spiraling Out Of Control

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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The Department of Veterans Affairs is in danger of not meeting its goal of eliminating the disability backlog by the end of 2015, and costs continue to climb, a new inspector general report has found.

Back in 2009, the VA kicked off an effort to modernize its benefits claims system to a paperless system with the goal of increasing efficiency and reducing errors. With a paperless system, the VA hopes to bring up accuracy in claims processing to 98 percent and to eliminate the backlog entirely by the end of 2015. The VA proposed 40 different initiatives to complete the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS).

While claims have been reduced, it’s not clear that VBMS had anything to do with the reduction, as no metrics exist to make that judgment.

Since 2009, the costs of modernization have ballooned from $579.2 million to $1.3 billion in 2015 — a 120 percent increase — because of poor cost controls and contracting practices as well as abrupt changes in business requirements.

The future is not promising.

“Given the changing requirements and competing priorities that have repeatedly changed the scope and direction of the program, VBMS costs continue to spiral upward and final end-state costs remain unknown,” the inspector general’s report noted.

Simply put, the VA has prioritized bringing the backlog down over fiscal prudence, which led the department to engage in shoddy contracting practices. The VA often neglected to perform market analyses to determine if contracts were in the best interests of the government.

Additionally, the software is plagued with performance problems. Constant delays leading to system crashes make life difficult for VA employees. Some users refer to the system lockups as the “spinning eagle of death,” which is the VA seal displayed during operations.

“Such issues forced users to frequently reboot and relogin to the system, resulting in frustration and potential claims processing delays,” the report said.

Slow development has resulted in additional costs since legacy systems require maintenance alongside the VBMS.

Finally, the VA does not have a method of ensuring a good return on investment. In addition, the total cost of the new system is still unknown, as no one has bothered to perform the necessary analysis. The inspector general remains unsure whether the VA is capable of eliminating the backlog by the end of 2015.

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