The giant storm of paper swirling around the Department of Veterans Affairs has secured the department’s place as a legend in bureaucratic circles. As cries ring out for more umbrellas, one company is doing something about the storm.
Much of the paper pushing at the VA and required of veterans duplicates resources that are stored in computers, according to Mike Schindler, CEO of Operation Military Family (OMF), a Washington technology and consulting firm that works on the transition of military personnel into civilian life.
One simple change that could eliminate the VA backlog completely: start VA claims while the member is on active dury.
The transition is a surprisingly complex process, as veterans can attest. OMF worked with the transition staff at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, or JBLM, to identify 256 steps active duty Army personnel may need to take to complete the successful transition.
“In 2010, the State of Washington Department of Veterans Affairs approached us to say, ‘How do we leverage technology to reach these guys sooner than later?’,” Schindler recalled.
OMF created two apps, one they call VAPP and the other VAPP Checklist, which they are working with the VA to roll out nationwide.
VAPP Checklist for active duty service members and veterans keeps track of where in the process an active duty member is in each group of tasks or tracks that apply to them.
VAPP is designed to give tools to active duty service members, veterans, and care givers, and claims the following features:
- Self-service access to comprehensive active duty and veterans resources
- Geo-location and other matching of resources to the VAPP users current location
- Lockbox storage providing VAPP users with online and mobile access to their documents or images
- Ask a Question for one-click access to a VA expert or community support
“While the Federal government is spending $12 billion on their enterprise solution, the states are essentially blind,” Schindler said. “So the state of Washington collaborated with JBLM to figure out what was really going on.”
“There was a small group of us (we were the private firm in there), and we started looking at how many steps these guys need to go through to transition out. It was roughly 256 Army-specific steps, between the four different channels: Standard Track, Education track, Apprenticeships track and Small Business track. If they don’t reenlist, what do they have to do?”
“We automated that process using a self-service feature, creating milestones because we know the command doesn’t always let these guys go through transition. We know that there is a 5-day class, but that’s essentially overwhelming-by-PowerPoint.”
“So we noticed that they collect all of this data upstream,” in the transition said Schindler,”and then it just dies. As a veteran, when I roll off I essentially have to start over again.”
VAPP provides online storage for all transition and military records such as DD-214 and health records.
“We believe our brothers and sisters have earned simple,” said Schindler. “The challenge is right now we’ve made it so complicated it’s overwhelming.”
“If I can’t get that job, and now I’m on unemployment, and now I’m waiting because I’ve got a delay in disability benefits. The DD-214 is critical.”
“The state is waiting for those. First of all they’ve got to know that the veteran is coming back to their state. Then, [DD-214s] come back to the state in a box,” said Schindler, adding that it can take up to two weeks to have the paper data entered into the state’s benefits system. That’s a long time at a critical point in the veteran’s transition when the risk of winding up jobless and homeless is greatest.
“But why can’t I just have access to the data directly? 80% of these guys are rolling out with smart phones. Why can’t I just tap into the VA’s eBenefits program? I can show secure and verified information from the government. Right now a lot of these guys are storing their DD-214 in Google Docs. Now there’s nothing wrong with Google docs, but information in it could have come from anywhere.”
VAPP also provides a way to share specific information with employers or social services counselors.
Effective transitioning of servicemen and women into veteran status means making a VA claim while they’re still on active duty, said Schindler. That way if there are delays, the delays takes place while the person is on active duty, with all of their resources available to them.