CHICAGO – A significant step to build on the current partnership between the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) and the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs Regional Office Chicago (VARO-Chicago) occurred late yesterday in a brief ceremony where the respective agency directors signed a three-page Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining six major points to foster cooperation, information sharing and access which will streamline and improve the claims process.
Erica Borggren, Director, Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Duane Honeycutt, Director, Veterans Affairs Regional Office – Chicago signed the MOU in an event this afternoon at the VARO-Chicago offices. The MOU signing was witnessed by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who is responsible for the nation’s second largest cabinet agency and was in Chicago to visit the regional office.
“This is a great step forward for our veterans and family members who are seeking benefits,” said Erica Borggren, Director, IDVA. “The MOU is a major step in formalizing and growing the great collaboration between our agencies. We welcome and appreciate Director Honeycutt’s leadership and vision in making this a reality.”
The MOU outlines six main areas of increased cooperation, access and information sharing which the VARO and IDVA resolve to:
1. Maximize the number of claims submitted using the VA’s Fully Developed Claims (FDC) process, which should result in veterans receiving decisions on their claims more quickly.
2. Increase use of USDVA’s Stakeholder Enterprise Portal (SEP), which will provide IDVA access to web-based systems to assist veterans and better coordinate services and programs with the VARO-Chicago.
3. Help the VA and IDVA provide feedback on performance of specific programs and support provided to the veteran community in order to sustain or improve delivery of benefits by IDVA Veteran Service Officers and programs.
4. Improve IT connectivity between IDVA and VARO-Chicago throughout the spectrum of available data-sharing systems and networks which will improve the knowledge base of available services and programs and the delivery of benefits.
5. Improve advocacy and data sharing regarding common core veteran issues, to include: employment, homelessness, access to health care and mental health services, education programs, and women veteran issues.
6. Pursue the establishment of alternate Board of Veteran Appeals (BVA) locations for Illinois veteran claimants outside of the Chicago metro area. Working with VARO-Chicago, IDVA will make sites available and work with VARO-Chicago to explore the necessary secure communication and networking ability. This would reduce the need for veteran travel to Chicago for BVA actions and hearings.
“When fully implemented, this MOU will really help our veterans with their claims.” said Harry Sawyer, Field Service Manager for the IDVA, “Overall this agreement will give our Veteran Service Officers, who work with the veterans on claims with better access to the process in the VA, visibility on where the claim is in that process, and the ability to address issues or provide additional documentation when it can make a difference. It will also give IDVA a data-driven understanding of how our VSOs are doing in preparing veteran claims, laying the foundation for future training and performance improvement.”
One of the key components in the MOU is the access to and interoperability between IDVA and VARO-Chicago IT systems to help streamline the claims process. IDVA VSOs are employing CyberVet, a new claims management platform which was developed by the IDVA and deployed earlier this year. VARO-Chicago will assist IDVA in providing VSO training and access to the Veteran’s Benefits Management System (VBMS), and the IDVA will pursue Digits-to-Digits (D2D) connectivity as a pilot platform IDVA CyberVet data system and VBMS.
This MOU formalizes and documents the working agreements and the results of multiple coordination meetings which have taken place over the past six months at the staff and director level. With VARO-Chicago agreeing to participate in Illinois Joining Forces earlier this year, this was the next logical step. The IDVA supports claims from over 34,000 veterans in the current fiscal year to VARO-Chicago and hopes to help more veterans in the future.