Can new technologies help to ease the bureaucratic logjam at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs while preventing future scandals such as those uncovered by the recent internal VA audits?
Perhaps, say some analysts and business professionals who've been following the revelations of shoddy health care and lengthy wait times for care at the VA. Experts believe updated software systems could go a long way towards making the agency's massive bureaucracy more streamlined, cost-efficient and beneficial to the millions of U.S veterans who rely on it.
Philip Beaver, a former senior analyst at the Pentagon, says the VA system is not only unwieldy and overly complicated, but also under-resourced and not up to the demands placed on it.
"There's not an easy solution to this," said Beaver, who teaches business analytics at the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business.
However, he adds, "any system can be straightened out, and the VA is obviously one that is ripe for that. The technology is out there to make systems like this transparent, seamless, more accessible, more understandable... but it's a tremendous investment."
One such investment could be in a program like the one currently being developed by Apparancy, a California developer of Internet cloud-based financial compliance and reporting software.
Company founder and CEO Karen Watts, a Silicon Valley veteran, says she came up with Apparancy's VetApprove program while trying to help her stepfather, a World War II Army veteran, navigate the VA's frustrating and time-consuming benefits applications when he tried to get a painful back injury treated.
"They couldn't tell him when he could have the surgery," she remembered. "I kept calling and asked, 'Is it in two weeks or two years', and they wouldn't tell me the date."
At the time, Apparancy was working on a system to help U.S. employers and health care companies comply with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. But Watts redirected her ACA team to concentrate on coming up with a program to assist veterans.
The result, VetApprove, is something like TurboTax for those seeking VA benefits. Watts says an online questionnaire guides veterans and their families through the VA programs, and then lists and explains the benefits available to them.
"It can be education, it can be home improvement, it can be health, it can be burial -- the list is pretty massive," she noted, "and I was rather shocked there were so many benefits available to veterans. The problem is, those veterans don't even know what they're [eligible] for."
Watts says that, despite the ongoing scandal, the VA has been one of the more innovative government agencies when it comes to partnering with private companies. She points to a recent VA record-sharing program with the drugstore chain giant Walgreens (WAG) that expedites the transfer of paperwork needed for vets to get flu shots and other immunizations outside of VA facilities.
Apparancy hopes to have VetApprove, which it will offer free of charge, available to the public by this autumn.
"I really just want vets to understand the benefits they are entitled to," said Watts. "I want to help solve the problem at the VA, creating that transparency that prevents people from dying. "