Those of us who have made the jump into the VA’s computer system known as the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) have many things to say about it. Paleolithic, Neanderthalic, slower than the seven year itch and more are just a drip in a deluge of negative aspersions. I can walk out to the kitchen and scramble four eggs-and walk back to the office- in the time it takes to be allowed into the entrance to VBMS.
I write this for all of you-attorneys, agents and Veterans. I want you to get a glimpse into what we can see-and what we cannot. I continue to roam around and discover I can go places my Change Management Agent (CMA) insists I cannot. For instance, I was told I was not allowed to have access to VA’s Oracle System known as VACOLS. That is the black hole our appeals descend into for years and years until we get our BVA decision. By rights, I need to view my Vet’s appeals in real time and not have to call up the 800-923-8387 BVA Dial-A-Prayer. Well, surprise , surprise surprise. We can view VACOLS! I will grant that the booth bitch (yes, that’s a politically incorrect, nongender specific acronym for the folks tasked with answering our calls) often knows far more than the chowderheads they hire to talk to you at the VARO-level (800-827-1000). Those are new hires and don’t even have a GS 1 rating yet. Even the VA poohbahs have relented and updated recently and now permit their phone bank technicians to look at the VBMS in read-only mode.
A fond reminder of a time long ago was when we could call our VA Puzzle Palaces directly. An 800 call went to the regional office nearest you as it was presumed that’s where your c-file was. Along about 2009, some efficiency expert decided to use the India call center model and all of a sudden your VA technician on the other end was in Pittsburgh instead of Seattle. Or Atlanta. S/he could not give you real-time information on your claim progress.
My CMA also avers that we are not allowed to view our own claims files. Aruuuu? Just for shits and grins, I filed a VAF 21-22a to represent myself and three weeks later I can see my 14,000+ page Gutenberg Bible cum claims file in all its shining splendor on VBMS. I do know that VA employees and VSOs certainly aren’t permitted to but we agents/attorneys respect no such constrictions on our access. We get Level 6 with printing capabilities which is higher than my CMA’s. That bugs her.
I love to wander around in there and see where the roadblocks are. But back to the VBMS lesson. Check this out. To begin with, you have to get a card reader for your brand new VA ID card. These PIV (Personal Identification Verification)cards are a Godsend too. I no longer have to take off my belt and shoes and empty my pockets for the metal detector. Since I’ve now been criminally background checked, my Government photo ID permits me entry with just a wave of the card-at any government building. Cool beans.
You begin this Odyssey by going to the Citrix VA Gateway at https://citrixaccess.va.gov/vpn/index_citrix_splash.html and come out here.
You then insert your smart card mentioned above into the SCR 3310 card reader and it asks for your six-digit PIV code. Hey, half of this rigmarole is remembering what all those acronyms stand for. VA pukes live for this. I found out DRO is a word-not a D-R-O. I wonder if that makes a CMA a See-má or a RVSR a Riv-sir. I’m sure there’s a method to this language. Onward. After being waved through, we then enter the Citrix library of endless confirmations
Click OK and the below opens
This is the first PIV Card entry point.
The next step after you gain entry to Citrix is to choose the Citrix VBMS entry gate:
You click on the desktop…
and choose the RO5 VBApp:
If you’re lucky and haven’t screwed up on your typing yet, you’re only into this about 3 minutes. And then… Bingo, you’re in the foyer.
Now you begin to segue into the outer hallways of VBMS. It’s now time to promise (again) not to divulge all the deep dark secrets you’re about to gain access to.
Having promised, you wait for another PIV card check:
Hum a few bars of Jeopardy music and bingo…
Click on your smart card symbol and voilà… another PIV card confirmation code
Here you get to memorize how to spell welcome for a minute or two.
After a while you move to a minute or two of this one. Apparently, they have a booth bitch who checks everyone in manually. For the next minute or three they will confirm you are allowed to do certain things and determine which level of entry you possess, whether you have permission to print, etc. etc.
Finally, you go through the last metal detectors and are deemed permitted to enter.
And now, the last magic button that opens VBMS. Misty 21 is cleared in hot, bubba.
You click on start and it opens the VBMS window
then click VBMS and it opens to the second level entry…
And then another click on VBMS #2:
And last but not least, the actual VBMS claims file queue
You’re finally in… sort of. But wait. Just one more profession of honesty and a guarantee not to share it with your Russian handler.
On this screen you enter in your 3-digit VBA regional office number and hit okay. Seattle is 346.
One last check to make sure you is you:
You’re found and you click okay.
Now, if you somehow arrived here after the above 25 steps, and the VBMS is not feeling well or the servers have a hangover, you get this
Yeppers. You claims queue is a dry hole. You can wait patiently for 15 minutes in hopes it will populate. If it doesn’t, you time out and it’s back to the beginning at Citrix again. On the other hand, if you have Jesus in your heart and are pure as the driven snow, a miracle happens. It populates and you actually get to see your client’s files. Elapsed time? about 12 minutes on a good day. I go in after 1500 hrs (left coast time). By then all the Fort Fumbles back east have gone home for supper. It really starts humming to about dial up speed then.
If it won’t populate, you can go to the top and hit search and look each of your clients up manually by entering their claims file number or SSN. You can find your clients in the claims queue and jump back and forth between them with multiple tabs open. The left side looks like this on an individual file.
We representatives always cry when we get a claims file from St. Louis. It looks like someone played 52-card pick up with it. Stuff from 1968 is right next to something that was inserted last month. There is no rhyme or reason to how it could be assembled helter skelter. But look above at VA’s nice, tidy file. Everything is chronologically arranged with subject and date. You can find a SOC from 2013 right after the denial and the Confirmed rating sheet. This is where VBMS is a Godsend. You can find things you are not supposed to-such as §3.156(c) Service treatment records introduced last week for the first time.
The claims queue can be changed to show the most recent activity first by clicking on the last changed date arrow several times.
By going up to the top right near your name, you’ll find the Veteran’s profile widget. Clicking it divulges a wealth of info about your client and you can check the profile for flashes to keep VA honest. If your Vet is dying, you’ll be wanting to flash him for terminally ill. Or homeless. Or financially in jeopardy. Or whatever it is that deserves an advance on the docket. Look in the “Go to work” column on the claims profile. I find my DRO hearing transcripts hidden in there all the time. Always look in the raters’ Notes section to see if it’s ready for decision.
And a lot more. I have only begun to reveal the mysteries of the VBSM here today. And speaking of widgets, here’s Cooper and Widget this morning at breakfast. It’s amazing how much you can cram into that tiny skull and it still only works as well as the 1480 lb. horse’s brain next to him. God works in strange ways and colors.
And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
The Fourth Caravan