This is the first in a series of articles about innovation at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A collaborative effort to combine data previously scattered across multiple federal agencies has led to a single portal where veterans can access key benefits.
Until now, agencies’ benefits such as scholarships, mortgage loans, education benefits and job openings for veterans were stuck in silos, requiring a veteran to navigate each agency site individually to find a benefit they were entitled to receive.
The Department of Veterans Affairs created ebenefits.gov and is now working with the Social Security Administration and the departments of Labor, Education and Defense to expand the project from which other agencies could model their own online benefit sites and learn how to harness, organize and present data.
“We’re tearing down the walls. We can all play in the same sandbox,” said Robert Reynolds, the VA’s director of the Benefits Assistance Service.
Two million veterans currently use eBenefits, which manages benefits for education, employment, health, housing, insurance and compensation. Reynolds said the site could easily be replicated in other agencies that have similar demands to deliver services.
The VA continues to identify agency’s with benefits useful for veterans, and adds new services to the site every three months.
The VA’s eBenefits program incorporates a “user store,” a data base that includes services a population is seeking. Veterans can also track their claim status.
Reynolds said such a program can also be used for a wide variety of claims, such as financial aid for natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and farm subsidies.
The eBenefits portal offers:
- A roadmap for veterans to get Social Security benefits, including disability benefits. If you are a wounded warrior, you can get specific information about SSA at ebenefits.va.gov.
- A college navigator with the Education Department to help veterans find educational opportunities.
- A career center for jobs with help from the Department of Labor.
“One of the things great about eBenefits is that it is an agile IT product, adding new features and functionality all the time,” said VA chief information officer Roger Baker.
In the coming year, eBenefits will continue expanding, including plans for medical records and pay history access for active military personnel and veterans as well as base canteen services around the country to give service members the ability to shop online.
In December, eBenefits will add two new components – filling online for disability compensation that will allow veterans to upload supporting documents online and applying for group life insurance online.
A mobile web feature helps veterans find the location of the nearest VA or DoD facility using GPS to navigate the location and get contact information on a smart phone, Reynolds said.