IT & Networks

Taking the 'work’ out of disability claims paperwork

Putting paperwork online doesn’t necessarily make filling it out any less arduous, but developers at the Department of Veterans Affairs are hoping that a new interactive question format will make filing disability claims easier for the nation’s veterans.

The online Disability Compensation Claim Tool aims to help veterans fill out claims forms and reduce the time it takes to do so.

“We attempted to populate as much of the application for the veteran as we can,” Andrea Schneider, product lead for Digital Service at the VA, told Federal Times.

She explained that veterans were frustrated that the VA asks for information it already possesses about applicants, prolonging the application process for those veterans.

The new system relies on a process that provides applicants with questions solely based on what is needed to fill out their particular forms, ensuring that veterans don’t have to worry about sections that are unrelated to their case.

“Depending on how you answer certain questions, [it] determines what other questions you might see,” Schneider said.

The project also worked to strip confusing, VA-specific language from the forms so they are easier to read.

Those who use online tax-filing systems may find the process familiar, as it similarly works to make sure the user can have a form filled out for them, rather than dealing with the confusing components themselves.

“Around the VA, people kind of call us the Turbo Tax experience,” Schneider said.

The tool can also automate a veteran’s authorization for the VA to request medical records from a private physician, cutting down the time it takes the agency to access those records.

According to Schneider, the process also required developers to take into account new considerations, such as how they ask questions about post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prior to the launch of the online tool, PTSD forms were separate from the primary application. Once those forms were incorporated into the online process, developers had to ensure the questions they asked applicants made the veteran feel supported throughout the process, according to Schneider. There were also reminders to take breaks after answering particularly difficult questions, she added.

The tool, which started as a minimum viable product in August 2018 and was launched for all veterans in March 2019, is part of a long-standing partnership between the VA and the U.S. Digital Service, which has yielded results like a modernized appeals processing system and a redesigned VA website.

For this particular project, the Veterans Benefits Administration, the VA’s Office of Information and Technology, and Digital Services at the VA collaborated with veterans to create a tool that auto-populates claim forms, keeps track of how much time users spend on a page or where they abandon the form, and allows veterans to track the progress of submitted forms.

“Our organizations worked side by side on daily stand-up calls and iterative requirements sessions to ensure we were building the right tool,” Schneider said of working with the Veterans Benefits Administration.

The tool has processed more than 10,000 applications since its March 20 launch. Last year, the VA awarded claims to 305,986 new recipients.

The online tool is also showing promise for cutting down the length of time it takes to submit an application: Currently the average time it takes to receive a claim is approximately 120 days, and Schneider said the department has seen cases where the online process took half that time.

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