DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS (VA) REGIONAL OFFICE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HEALTH
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
June 7, 2004
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for inviting me to participate in today’s hearing. I am pleased to be here today to discuss the Department’s OneVA sharing opportunity between the Hartford VA Regional Office and the Newington Campus of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System and to communicate improvements in service delivery to veterans in the State of Connecticut.
Recent world events have shown how essential the sacrifices made by servicemembers and their families are in preserving peace and liberty. President Abraham Lincoln’s solemn promise – “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan” – defines the heart of the mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This vital mission of serving nearly 300 thousand Connecticut veterans and their family members is highly motivational to the 71 employees of the Hartford VA Regional Office. Our employees are known for their dedication, professionalism, integrity, and accountability.
OneVA sharing opportunities are a priority for the Department. In many cases, VA is spending significant resources on rental space for its VA Regional Offices. With rental costs rising each year, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) must take advantage of opportunities to collocate on VA property where such action enhances services and is economically favorable. VA has placed great emphasis on maximizing the use of our assets to meet the service delivery goals of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the National Cemetery Administration (NCA). Savings from effective consolidations can be better spent on the human and technology resources used to process compensation, pension, and education claims and provide loan guaranty and vocational rehabilitation and employment services. By operating in this manner, VA will ensure it maximizes its resources to provide services to veterans and redirect significant savings from rental costs into claims processing and other benefits delivery missions. Further, collocating also improves access to services, employee morale, and productivity by relocating facilities in new, modern, and efficient office space.
Here in the State of Connecticut, we have adopted the OneVA sharing opportunity concept, and have developed what we call “The Connecticut Model”. “The Connecticut Model” is a progressive and dynamic example of government entities working together to improve the efficiency of operations.
The collocation of the Hartford VA Regional Office to the Newington VA Medical Center campus is an excellent example of “ The Connecticut Model”.
The Hartford VA Regional Office is currently housed in GSA leased space in the federal building in downtown Hartford. The office has been at the existing location since 1963. We occupy approximately 30,000 square feet of space. The following veterans service organizations have full-time representatives located in the Regional Office: the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, and the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs. We also provide space to representatives from the Buffalo VA Regional Processing Office and the State of Connecticut Department of Labor.
The scope of the Hartford VA Regional Office collocation project encompasses the renovation of three floors and approximately 43,000 square feet of space on the third, fourth, and fifth floors of Building 2E at the Newington campus.
The collocation project will provide the Hartford VA Regional Office with a state-of-the-art facility and infrastructure that will enable the Hartford VA Regional Office to provide optimal customer service in the form of improved business processes.
This project offers unique opportunities for VBA and VHA and will benefit VA as a whole. The Hartford/Newington collocation will improve service to veterans by providing “one stop service” for benefits and medical needs, including free parking and fully accessible facilities.
Operational efficiency will occur with increased collaborative communication between claims examiners and physicians, and redesigned division work areas that increase and enhance workflow, accuracy and timeliness.
Employee working conditions will be improved by providing a new, well designed work environment with the latest information technology. Access to existing training and support facilities will further contribute to employees’ productivity.
Close proximity of VBA and VHA personnel will further enhance accuracy and timeliness of the examination process. We expect to see improvements in the quality and timeliness of completed hospital exams. The average days to complete a hospital exam within the VA Connecticut Healthcare System is 17 days. Although this is better than the VHA standard/goal for performance in this area (35 days), we believe that we can continue to improve.
Net costs will be reduced by eliminating the payment of annual GSA rent. In addition, VBA and VHA will investigate opportunities to integrate various operational functions, which will potentially reduce costs still further.
The new facility will incorporate improvements to the overall work environment for visitors and employees with improved lighting, noise abatement, temperature control, health and safety features, and accessible accommodations for handicapped veterans. The new facility is scheduled to be occupied in September 2004.
Within the Hartford VA Regional Office, we have made excellent progress in meeting the priorities set by Secretary Principi in improving the timeliness and accuracy of claims processing. Between 2001 and 2003, the average number of claims we completed per month grew by 85%, from 227 to 421. Two years ago the inventory of rating-related compensation and pension claims peaked at 2,515. By the end of 2003, we had reduced this backlog of pending claims to just over 1,883, a drop of over 25 percent. We expect to meet our fiscal year 2004 claims inventory goal of 1,405 rating claims pending.
In 2002, it took an average of 214 days to process a claim. Today, it takes about 157 days. We also continue to make improvements in our average days pending and are on track to reach an average days pending of 100 days by the end of 2004. One of the main reasons we will be able to meet and then sustain this improved timeliness level is that we have reduced the proportion of claims pending over 6 months from 48 percent to just 16 percent during the last 3 years. At the same time that we are improving timeliness, we will increase the accuracy of our claims processing. We are on track to meet the 2004 performance goal for the national accuracy rate for compensation claims of 90 percent.
Our close relationship with National Service Organizations plays an integral part in our ability to improve benefit services to veterans in the State of Connecticut. We have provided instruction in the Training, Responsibility, Involvement, and Preparation (TRIP) Program to accredited veterans service organization representatives who work in the Regional Office building. This TRIP program involves leveraging the expertise of veterans service officers to assist our customers in providing us with more complete evidence for their claims.
Connecticut is fortunate to be one of the few sites nationally to have a Homeless Veterans Outreach Coordinator (HVOC) assigned to the local Healthcare for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) Program. This program provides improved access to benefits and services for homeless veterans.
To ensure effective coordination of services, the Hartford VA Regional Office and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System have developed case management procedures to provide seriously disabled servicemembers returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom with a seamless transition to veteran status.
We provide personalized service to seriously disabled servicemembers by calling them when they return to Connecticut for convalescent care or if recently separated from the military to thank them for their service and to remind them of their eligibility for VA health care and other benefits.
We conduct demobilization briefings to provide specific information to all servicemembers about VA healthcare and benefit services. To date, we have conducted 11 demobilization briefings with over 850 servicemembers in attendance and processed over 40 compensation claims.