A rare look inside the inner-workings at the Sioux Falls VA shows how the facility is taking a leading role in helping more veterans get benefits. The push to go paperless is cutting into a backlog of claims.
Up until Thursday, the VA hasn't let our cameras inside the claims department because of confidentiality reasons. But now all the veterans' medical information is out of site and stored in computers, for quicker processing.
Workers at the Sioux Falls VA have been waging an uphill battle scaling piles of paperwork.
"So what you're seeing here in Sioux Falls is really a war on paper," VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers said.
Just one veteran's file can include hundreds of pages.
"And this is about an average-sized file and what we're doing is moving from this, to this," Sowers said.
Going electronic will shave a couple months off the claims process.
"How much time does it save when you have to look something up on Google versus look something up in an encyclopedia? That's probably the way to think about this," Sowers said.
The old system left the Sioux Falls claims department buried in paperwork.
"The stacks would often rise above the top of the work stations. And employees would have to sort through that every day to get what they needed," Dakotas Regional Offices Director Jim Brubaker said.
The Sioux Falls VA processes about 300 local claims a month. Plus another 250 from backlogged VA's across the country.
"It's a testament to the employee's efficiency and their abilities to do the job, absolutely," Brubaker said.
The Sioux Falls VA workers are putting in 20 hours a month of mandatory overtime to catch up with the backlog.
"So this is a high-performing, high-production area that not only does great in terms of quantity, but also quality as well," Sowers said.
Sowers credits much of that high-performance to the military makeup of the workforce. 62-percent of the VA's employees are veterans themselves.