|Project to inform veterans of benefits|
|Published Wednesday, March 7, 2018|
Veterans have access to many benefits in thanks for their service to their country. Yet many either do not know what are available or they do not know how to access them.
The new Veterans Information Platform Project (VIPP) hopes to change that. “We want to make sure that we get every veteran every single benefit they are entitled to; they earned it,” said Larry Hall, the Secretary of the N.C. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA).
Rob Jones, a business applications analyst with the NC DMVA and the subject matter expert on the project, said there are 15 field offices in the state, and “each office was pretty much autonomous and managing by spreadsheets and rolodexes.” As a result, each time a veteran visited an office, the representatives, who are already stretched thin, were “reinventing the wheel” in collecting and entering data. “It’s really cumbersome, and it’s really hard to navigate as a veteran,” he said.
The VIPP has been in the works for the last three or four years, and the first phase of the project is to create an information warehouse or repository that all agencies serving veterans can use.
The new system is “a virtual file cabinet that everybody can access,” Jones said.
Not only will that streamline the process so that representatives don’t have to re-enter information each time, but it will also allow them to see what benefits veterans are not using so they can recommend them, which would benefit veterans and the state, in some cases.
For example, Jones explained that many veterans are using Medicaid, which is funded jointly by the state and the federal government. However, they have access to a program that is funded entirely by the federal government. If they take advantage of that benefit instead of using Medicaid, that is a savings to the state.
But, besides cost savings like these, advocates of the VIPP are quick to note that doing this is “just the right thing to do.”
“Those guys and girls that served, they earned their benefits; they answered the call of duty,” Jones said.
Hall said there are almost 1 million veterans living in North Carolina, and more than 500,000 who are over the age of 50, plus an additional 102,000 active duty service members, as well as 32,000 in the guard and reserve. The number of people impacted by veterans’ benefits is even greater since many have families that can also use the benefits.
“In many instances, they do not report or disclose that they are veterans, and they are still eligible for many benefits,” Hall said.
The NC DMVA partnered with the Statistical Analysis System (SAS), the N.C. Department of Information Technology, and the Government Data Analytics Center to incorporate the software that is needed for the data sharing, as well as to better understand how to analyze the data to help make policy decisions. For example, Jones said the data might show that there are many veterans living in rural communities where services are not readily available. Policy makers could then move to open more offices in those areas.
Hall said the project has cost approximately $1 million so far, though it has been budgeted over time and shared among partners. The expense has been in terms of project hours, rather than equipment. “Once you get the infrastructure and the methodology perfected, you can apply it across departments, and the price ends up going down,” he said.
The first phase of the project has been to create this data repository, and all work is expected to be completed by the end of the year or the beginning of next year. All veterans’ offices will then have access to the information database.
Those involved with the project said the new system will also allow for improved analytics of data, such as identifying what services veterans are not using and ensuring that they are notified about them. Rob Main, chief information officer of the NC DMVA, said he data would also help Hall when he is trying to make legislative changes in the General Assembly.
“If they’re willing to shed blood for their country, both the red side and the blue side need to support that,” he said.
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