Veterans should find it easier to file the proper documentation for disability claim appeals — hopefully speeding up the process — with a new web-based tool unveiled Thursday by the U.S. Digital Service.
A USDS team embedded with the Department of Veterans Affairs developed the Caseflow Certification tool, “a simple web-app that automatically detects if required documentation has been added to an appeal before it moves forward in the process,” the team wrote in a Medium post. “This simple check will help reduce preventable errors and avoidable delays caused by disjointed, manual processing.”
Up to now, when veterans would file new documentation for their claims, it would restart the entire appeal process. With an appeal process that regularly takes more than five years, most veterans end up filing new evidence as their health changes over time.
The caseflow tool is the first of many enhancements planned to improve the processing of VA benefit claims appeals with the hope of reducing the backlog — hovering around 450,000 claims — of veterans waiting, years in many cases, for a decision from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals on their disputed disability claims.
While the USDS couldn’t address the many laws and policies at the root of the claims process’ struggles — the focus of an endless litany of congressional hearings in recent years — the team was able to use human-centered design to better understand how technology could improve the process within legal boundaries, and eliminate legacy software and manual processing when possible.
The software behind the process was built in the 1980s, the USDS found, and only recently had it been updated to allow paperless filing.
“A human-centered approach (that is, designing for people by first understanding what they need) ensures that we build and design things that actually make sense within the context of someone’s real life,” the post says. “We’ve spent months working closely with the Board and collaborators all across the VA to understand where the Digital Service can have the most impact.”
The team also built the new tool to adhere to the U.S. Web Design Standards for a feel consistent with other government websites.
Though the enhancement may seem like a very small fix, the USDS team feel it’s a step in the right direction that will have a huge impact.
“To the outside world, it may be hard to grasp the importance of these simple fixes,” the post says.
“Today there are more than 450,000 veterans that have appeals pending. Each one of these appeals undergoes a protracted cycle of review, delay, and miscommunication. 80,000 veterans have appeals older than 5 years. 5,000 veterans have appeals older than 10 years.”
“But these are just numbers. Behind each of these appeals is a veteran — a Lawrence or a Lisa. The invisible hand of integrated technology, corresponding process enhancements, and legislative changes that reduce manual processing has the ability to improve Lawrence’s and Lisa’s lives, and make good on our promise to America’s veterans.”