A look at the benefits afforded to Veterans and GeekSI’s technological support
The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is organized into three administrations: the National Cemetery Administration, the Veterans Health Administration, and the Veterans Benefits Administration. Each of these administrations have their own specific mission, and do their part in fulfilling the VA’s commitment to serve and honor America’s Veterans. The mission of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is to help Servicemembers make a successful transition out of military service by providing a wide range of benefits. These benefits are extended to Veterans in an effort to thank and care for the individuals who have bravely fought for their country, as well as their families who were also asked to sacrifice so much.
When a Servicemember’s journey ends after they separate from their military obligation and the Department of Defense, they begin a new journey with the VA: A journey into the status of Veteran, reentering civilian life with much less of a roadmap than they had previously been provided, but with access to resources and support to help make their transition a successful one.
There are seven core programs offered by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to assist Veterans, Servicemembers, and their families. These programs are organized into Lines of Business covering Compensation; Pension & Fiduciary; Home Loans; Life Insurance; Education & Training; Veteran Readiness & Employment; Outreach, Transition, and Economic Development. Each of these lines of business have a myriad of business processes and systems in place to accomplish their business goals, and each require an organized and concerted Information Technology effort to maintain and enhance the complex systems used every day by hundreds of thousands of individuals all over the country.
GeekSI is one of very few companies who has experience supporting nearly every VBA line of business through the enhancement and sustainment of the systems involved in delivering those benefits. We have or are currently supporting the Compensation & Pension, Education, Insurance, Home Loan, and Veteran Readiness & Employment lines of business as Digital Transformation experts, implementing systems including the Veterans Benefits Management System, Loan Guaranty Services systems, Life Insurance Policy Administration Solution, and the Veteran Facing Education Program. In the course of our 23 year company history, GeekSI has time and time again proven ourselves technology experts, and we are proud to play our part in providing the end user – the Veteran – with access to the benefits they have earned.
Compensation is the most-utilized Veteran benefit, with more than $106 billion spent by the VA to support almost 5.7 million beneficiaries annually. Through this program, Veterans are entitled to disability compensation for injury or disease incurred or aggravated during their time in the military. Disability compensation is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to qualifying Veterans who submit a claim and undergo a health screening to determine the extent of the disability, which correlates with the monetary amount awarded.
In support of the VBA and its goals to modernize and enhance the complex system for the intake, processing, verification, and award of disability claim benefits, GeekSI has played a rather unique and extensive role. Our work with the Compensation Line of Business (LOB) began in the late ‘90s with the modernization of the Veteran Service Network (VETSNET) and, following, the Veteran Benefits Management System. We initially supported the sustainment of VETSNET and the implementation and delivery of business logic for multiple applications within VETSNET.
We then supported the development of the Veterans Benefit Management System (VBMS), beginning with Ratings. The Veterans Benefits Management System – Ratings project is a custom-built web application designed to deliver critical rating functionality for compensation and pension claims processing. In 2009, VA began implementation of an electronic, paperless system to mitigate high processing timelines and the large backlog of claims. The Ratings application’s purpose is to support a Rater’s ability to review claim evidence documents and information, including medical exams and military service, used to determine eligibility for compensation and pension benefits. Once a record of military service is confirmed, the disability is evaluated to determine a percentage based upon rating schedule regulations in the electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR). This metric is used to determine an overall percentage that directly corresponds to a benefit monetary amount for the Veteran to receive. A letter is generated to the Veteran to explain the benefits and their rights to appeal and is stored in the eFolder Enterprise Content Management system. This Core Enterprise Content Management system manages the scan images of claim and other benefit forms and evidence and contributed to the VBA’s goal of paperless claims processing to cut down on wait times for claim processing and award.
Pension and Fiduciary
Pension and Fiduciary services provide supplemental income to Veterans, survivors, and families through Veterans Pension, Death Pension, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, and Special Monthly Compensation. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is a monetary benefit for a spouse, child, or parent of Servicemembers who have died while on active duty. Special Monthly Compensation is an additional compensation paid to Veterans, their spouses, or surviving spouses and parents, and is a higher rate of compensation based on special circumstances, such as the need of aid and attendance by another person or a specific disability that requires additional support services.
Support for disability claims compensation and pension payouts is also managed by the Veterans Benefits Management System, and GeekSI has supported this aspect of VBA benefits as well. VBMS-Ratings is used to determine eligibility for compensation and pension benefits, and the Veterans Benefits Management System – Awards (VBMS-Awards) system manages the payment, i.e. “award”, of monetary benefits. VBMS-Awards evaluates the financial aspect of the Veteran, or other participants, such as family members applying for benefits. Using the rating decision, together with rate tables that include stipends for dependents, and other withholdings based on military payments, an award benefit monetary amount is determined. This information is sent to other internal and external systems, such as the Department of the Treasury, to issue the payment to the Veteran. Approximately 300,000 lines of code are used, and code includes business rules, UI Design specifications, and integration with VBA Service layer.
Next to Compensation benefits, Education benefits program is VBA’s second highest in terms of spending area. Benefits for Veterans education are administered through eight education programs, serving more than 840,000 beneficiaries with a payout of more than $10.3 billion. The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 expanded or enhanced educational benefits for Veterans, Servicemembers, families, and survivors, and the Colmery Act IT implementation project was an effort to update existing systems to allow for faster application processing times and deliver benefits more quickly to students receiving education assistance benefits. VBA Education Service is responsible for administering education and training benefits to Active Duty, National Guard, Reserve Servicemembers, as well as Veterans and their dependents.
Underneath the scope of the Benefits Integration Platform project, GeekSI provided sustainment and system retirement support for the Benefits Delivery Network (BDN). In order to comply with the Colmery Act, the VA transitioned claims processing and benefit delivery services from the legacy BDN to more modern and advanced systems being used for other benefits within VA. BDN contained the Compensation, Pension, and Education (CP&E) online system as well as the Benefits Identification and Records Locator System, which GeekSI participated in decommissioning by developing microservices, a data service called Integrated Benefits Service (IBS) which provides specific data operations based on business rules, and an ICP API service.
The Benefits Delivery Network (BDN) system was the legacy system employed by VBA to process entitlements for Education. The project BDN Retirement Phase I migrated BDN’s functionalities onto an enhanced Long Term Solution and Finance and Accounting System wherever feasible. Retiring the BDN system was and continues to be a critical priority for VBA; migrating functionality to more modern systems reduces risk of delayed or improper payments to Veterans, ensures the use of security best practices, and allows for future enhancements and functions for Veterans.
As part of its commitment to support Veterans for the entirety of their lives, The Department of Veteran Affairs offers universally available group term life insurance benefits to Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families. There are life insurance options available for service-disabled Veterans and spouses and children of Servicemembers in three categories: Closed Life Insurance Programs; Disabled Veterans Insurance Programs; and Uniformed Services and Post-Vietnam Veteran Programs. The VBA Insurance program made over $1 Billion in payments last year, and the number of lives insured in 2021 totaled more than 5.7 million.
GeekSI supports the Life Insurance Policy Administration Solution (LIPAS) modernization effort. The average VA life insurance policyholder may never put a moment of thought to the systems managing their policy, but the VA is constantly working to enhance and modernize their systems for the benefit of their employees and for the functionality and ease-of-use for users. LIPAS is a modernization effort by the VA Insurance Service to bring its six government life insurance programs from a legacy IBM mainframe system to a modernized COTS solution, LifePro. This allows VA Insurance Service employees to manage insurance policyholder records, process insurance claims, process insurance payments, and generate letters to veteran policyholders and beneficiaries, except document repository and actuarial accounting systems. All of these are crucial business functions that affect policyholders. LifePro is hosted on the VA’s Enterprise Cloud Amazon Web Services GovCloud High (VAEC-AWS) environment and addresses critical risks imposed by VA’s antiquated legacy systems, integrates with VA Enterprise shared services, and provides new opportunities for business process automation.
Home Loan Guaranty
The VA Guaranteed Home Loan Program is a benefits program that guarantees home loans in varying amounts and ensures that Veterans are protected when purchasing a home under the program. In addition to home loans, this program also provides adapted housing grants to qualifying Servicemembers and Veterans so that they can adapt or acquire suitable housing to meet specific disability needs. VA Home Loans are provided by private lenders and VA guarantees a portion of the loan, which enables lenders to provide more favorable terms to the borrower. In 2021, the VA guaranteed 1.4 million loans, almost 1 million interest rate reduction loans, with a combined loan total of nearly $500 Billion.
With so much invested in guaranteeing loans to Veterans and qualifying individuals – the number of VA guaranteed loans has doubled over the last five years – the suite of systems used to complete the home loan appraisal and valuation process is comprehensive and falls under the scope of Loan Guaranty Services Development, Security, and Operations (LGY DevSecOps) project. The LGY DevSecOps project includes a suite of 26 interconnected systems where users can complete all aspects of the home loan process through one convenient portal, called LGY Hub. LGY Hub handles the end-to-end processing of an appraisal for a mortgage loan, from the request for an appraisal to the issue of the valuation notice. WebLGY, the legacy predecessor to LGY Hub, was the first large-scale Java-based Web application developed in LGY. LGY connects to multiple systems, including those owned by VA, other government agencies like Ginnie Mae and USDA, and private lending institutions such as Wells Fargo Bank. LGY DevSecOps provides and enhances the web-based functionality needed for users to complete the VA valuation process for properties that are or may become part of the VA Home Loan process. GeekSI has supported the LGY project through two contract iterations, and we have supported analysis, development, and testing aspects of the Software Development Lifecycle.
Veteran Readiness and Employment
A crucial step to re-entering civilian life for Veterans is obtaining long-term employment. Employment assistance, offered under Chapter 31 of the GI Bill, is available to eligible Veterans through the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program. VR&E is designed to assist Servicemembers and Veterans with service-connected disabilities in identifying and obtaining the employment path best suited for them and to allow for as much independence as possible. Suitable employment is work that is within the Veteran’s physical and emotional capabilities, and that which matches their level of skill and abilities, and meets their interests. The program also improves the quality of life for individuals whose service-connected disabilities prevent them from working. Within the VR&E program, there are five tracks to employment: Reemployment, Rapid Access to Employment, Self-Employment, Independent Living Services, and Employment through Long-Term Services. Veterans are eligible for this benefit if they have a qualifying VA-established service-connected disability rating and an employment handicap. To date, over 125,000 individuals have participated in the VR&E program.
An aspect of employment readiness is obtaining the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue a Veteran’s desired career path. As part of the VR&E program, a Veteran and a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) explore career paths together, and once a path is agreed upon, an individualized plan of service is developed. This may include college, technical schooling, or other training. In support of Veteran employment success, the VR&E program provides education and career counseling to Veterans, Servicemembers, and eligible family members, and assistance is offered for tuition, books, fees, supplies, as well as monthly subsistence allowance during training.
GeekSI is currently supporting the Veteran Facing Education Program in managing aspects of the 17 product lines used to provide employment services, specifically those related to exploring education options available through the Digital GI Bill. Our work on this project has only just begun, but already we are making strides to improving aspects of the GI Bill Comparison Tool. This tool helps students compare their VR&E benefits at approved schools, employers, and Veteran Technology Education providers. We have improved the geocoding process for the GI Bill Comparison Tool, and are working on meeting 508 compliance standards for the interactive tool.
Outreach, Transition, and Economic Development
The Office of Transition and Economic Development (OTED) provides an overview of the benefits offered by VA, and is the first step a Veteran takes in understanding the above described benefits. This program assists Veterans as they transition out of active service to civilian life by providing resources and services to educate individuals on the benefits guaranteed to them by the VA and connecting them with the support they may need to be successful in the next stage of life after the military. There are six initiatives within the OTED program:
VA’s Transition Assistance Program: This program is structured to provide an overview of the VA benefits an individual will be eligible for upon separating from the military, as well as training on how to navigate VA IT systems to access benefits services. Women’s Health Transition Training: An online, self-paced course designed to give servicewomen and female Veterans information about women’s health services available from VA.
Personalized Career Planning and Guidance: This benefit stems from Chapter 36 and offers education and career guidance. It is the first step to helping individuals research and decide on their desired career path after military life and prepares them to leverage future employment benefits. Economic
Investment Initiatives: Economic Investment Initiatives connect Veteran populations in specific geographic locations directly to their benefits through in-person events, including job and benefits fairs, on-site health services, and in-person disability claim filing.
Military Life Cycle Modules: This service provides a robust collection of training modules available anytime to help Veterans navigate their benefits and services within the seven core Lines of Business offered by the VBA.