In response to complaints of slow claims processing over the last decade, the Department of Veterans Affairs pledged to improve their service to Veterans, their families and their survivors by transitioning from paper-intensive processing to a more modern and integrated digital claims processing system. In September 2016, the VA engaged FTC to support this massive undertaking, and despite considerable logistical obstacles, the team’s effective leadership, innovative solutions and heart-felt commitment to their mission led this project beyond its original scope to its successful completion on budget and well ahead of schedule.
“This was one of the largest logistics efforts ever undertaken… and really one of the most remarkable milestones within the government and particularly within the Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s truly historic.”
Within overcrowded warehouses in geographically-dispersed regional benefits processing offices both around the country and outside of the continental US, volumes of paper files representing decades of individual Veteran disability claims had to be collated, counted, sorted, organized and scanned before the information in each file was uploaded into multiple VA systems. Navigating space constraints, variable organizational, staffing and management procedures at each regional office and a constantly changing schedule due to equipment needs, inaccurate file counts, staffing challenges and three Category 3+ hurricanes that affected whole regions of the country, the FTC team had to coordinate complicated shipping, staffing and operational logistics.
Amidst the volumes of files, many of which included incomplete records for hundreds of thousands of backlogged claims, “expedites” – or files for Veterans with a critical or life-threatening need that required faster claims processing – had to be extracted and flagged for immediate and urgent attention.
With no consistent organizational system, identifying and isolating these high priority files – and processing the unexpectedly high volume while keeping on schedule – were a considerable challenge.
Given the unique nature of each regional office’s organizational, staffing and management procedures, Agile methods and continuous process improvement driven by a dedicated FTC Project Manager were necessary to bring clarity and leadership to each extraction site, to monitor and adjust the master schedule, and to keep the operation running smoothly and efficiently. The FTC team modified warehouse organization and staffing procedures to leverage the talents of local personnel and maximize available space for optimal throughput at each regional office. Constant communication with VA leadership ensured that extraction schedules were adjusted in real time and that problems were addressed quickly and effectively to keep ahead of the timeline despite the addition of four regional offices added to the scope of the project mid-stream.
Finally, a new technology – a Source Material Tracking System (SMTS) hosted in Amazon AWS – was developed and deployed by the FTC team to provide real-time, accurate data collection, aggregation and retrieval for increased visibility and transparency in inventory management to support the extraction efforts at each warehouse. This innovative solution went above and beyond the parameters of the project and became a key tool in accelerating the extraction of high priority files despite the unexpectedly large volume.
At 54 geographically-dispersed warehouses for regional benefits processing offices around the country and at locations outside of the continental US such as the Philippines, San Juan, Alaska and Hawaii, the FTC team coordinated the extraction of over 1.6 million paper files, uploading information from each individual paper file into multiple VA systems and extracting an approximate total of about 60,000 “expedites” -- anywhere from 1,000 - 1,500 per week – well beyond the anticipated number of critical files cited in the original scope of the project. Despite the changing parameters of the project scope, the FTC team successfully completed their work within a period of just 24 months – two and a half years ahead of the project’s original four-year time frame.
Indeed, following the incredible success of this program, the VA recently re-engaged FTC to extend the project, adding an additional 13,000+ files at a location that had not been included in the scope of the first phase of the project.
Ultimately, while FTC’s exceptional performance on this program was the result of close customer collaboration, agile teams of personnel, and continuous process improvement, it was the FTC team’s commitment to transforming the VA’s ability to efficiently deliver benefits to our nation’s Veterans that drove the initiative to its successful completion. In the words of the customer,
“I am proud of the work FTC has done and the impacts to the agency are only now just beginning to be measured, and the true impacts will still be measured decades from now as Veterans will file for claims and the VA will be able to realize a same-day adjudication; truly historical.”
- H. Patrick Wilson, VA Program Analyst and integral partner in the project’s success.
Thanks to the FTC team’s extraordinary efforts, American Veterans can now receive critical care and benefits delivery faster and more efficiently than ever. Furthermore, without the massive volumes of physical files to maintain, the VA’s warehouse space can now be repurposed for other mission-critical activities or turned to a GSA lease, saving valuable tax-payer dollars.
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