eBenefits speeds up info access

Conceived in the wake of the Walter Reed scandal as a way for wounded warriors and their families to understand and access benefits, the "eBenefits" web portal has become an online gateway of enormous value and convenience to 2 million registered users.

That still leaves a pool of 35 million eligible veterans and military community members wondering what all the "eBenefits" fuss is about.

Robert Reynolds, a former Special Forces soldier and former National Commander of Disabled American Veterans, is happy to explain.

As director of VA's Benefits Assistance Service, Reynolds and staff spend hours every week, in partnership with the Department of Defense, brainstorming ways to make eBenefits more valuable. Hired in 2009, in part to breathe life into the e-concept recommendation of the Dole-Shalala Commission for wounded warriors, Roberts immediately saw the potential to help anyone in service or with veterans' benefits, and families and survivors.

If a self-service portal could deliver information and benefits faster to the ill and injured veteran, "why couldn't we do it for any veteran and provide them that same level of access," Reynolds said.

Not every vet is eligible for vocational and rehabilitation training, he reasoned, but most qualify for the GI Bill or can use the guaranteed home loan benefit.

Today 30,000 veterans a day use eBenefits to track progress on VA compensation and pension claims through VA's eight-step process. When more information is needed, an electronic message alerts claimants a week or more before letters can.

Every month, 780,000 veterans use the portal to view their payment and reimbursement history, to confirm online what money is headed into their accounts and why.

These two most popular features now are accessible through smart phones and other mobile devices. But there's so much more, Reynolds said.

Taking one month as an example, last July veterans used eBenefits to order, modify and instantly print or transfer 80,000 letters verifying eligibility for VA benefits; 27,000 letters affirming veterans' preference for civil service jobs; 24,000 letters verifying military service, and 3,400 letters verifying 100-percent permanent disability for military IDs to shop in base commissaries.

Monthly about 10,000 veterans, active duty members and Reserve and National Guard personnel use eBenefits to print out or send to lenders copies of their home loan guaranty certificate of eligibility.

The automatic letters are available instantly to qualified users because of the integration of eBenefits with computer files holding personal and vet status information.

Users are delighted to find that most forms they call up to apply for new benefits get "auto-populated" with their name, address, date-of-birth and other personal information, which makes the process easy and usually error free.

Vets who entered service since the 1990s have access to electronic military records through eBenefits. Users with smart phones can download a special app showing every VA and DoD installation in their area, with full contact information, a feature prized by "snowbird" retirees who head south for the winter, Reynolds said.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at:

milupdate@aol.com

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