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Advocacy Groups Can Make Veterans’ Benefits Claims Process More Efficient, MU Expert Says

Report highlights best practices for veterans’ organizations when working with the veterans’ affairs office

October 3rd, 2013

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217, hurstn@missouri.edu

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­—The recent economic downturn has significantly increased demand for government benefit programs, and agencies are having difficulty keeping up with the demand. Waiting times for several programs, including veterans’ disability compensation, are so long that many have labeled it a crisis. Lael Keiser, an associate professor in the University of Missouri Truman School of Public Affairs, says this increased demand highlights the importance of private veterans organizations that can help expedite the benefit-filing process.

“The challenges that government agencies are currently facing in timely and accurate claims processing underscore the importance of building effective partnerships between government agencies and outreach organizations,” said Keiser, who also is an associate professor in the MU department of political science in the College of Arts and Science. “Claimants who need cash assistance to meet their daily needs are harmed by long waiting times. However, government agencies also must protect taxpayers by ensuring accuracy in benefit claims, which is difficult to do under the current pressure to process cases very quickly. For veterans specifically, effective collaborations between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and veterans outreach organizations can help reduce the time that it takes to process applications, increase accuracy in eligibility decisions, and improve customer service for veterans.”

In a report funded by the IBM Center for the Business of Government, Keiser and Susan Miller, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina and former doctoral student at the University of Missouri, identified ways that private veterans service organizations help make the veterans’ benefits application process more efficient as well as provided tips for these organizations to maximize the amount of help they can provide to veterans. Keiser says she was surprised to find how well the VA and private organizations already work together.

“We were pleasantly surprised to discover how integrated many of the service organizations already are with the federal agencies,” Keiser said. “Many organizations have offices in the same buildings as regional VA offices, which creates great opportunities for collaboration. It is not often that you see advocacy groups actually improve government efficiency, but that is the case with many veterans’ advocacy groups. By working closely with the VA, these groups are helping veterans file benefits claims in ways that will result in the fastest and most successful outcomes for everyone involved. This is not to say the system is working perfectly. More improvements are needed.”

Keiser says that despite the positive relationships many of these groups have with the VA, there are ways they can help improve efficiency even more. Since VA offices benefit from relationships with advocacy groups, she recommends that regional VA offices focus on building relationships with as many advocacy groups as possible, as well as provide training to these groups so members can better advise veterans on their benefit eligibility. Keiser says this system of working with advocacy groups can be a model for many different federal agencies as a way to make their processes more efficient.

To read a full copy of Keiser’s report, “Collaboration Between Government and Outreach Organizations: A Case Study of the Department of Veterans Affairs”, visit: http://www.businessofgovernment.org/sites/default/files/Collaboration%20Between%20Government%20and%20Outreach%20Organizations.pdf

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