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Department of Veterans Affairs ditches performance database

Jack Encarnacao | Gov Tech

(TNS) -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has stopped updating a performance database that charts error rates at local offices — a system vets advocates say was a useful tool to hold the agency accountable, including at the Boston office.

The system, called ASPIRE, was introduced with fanfare in 2010 as a way to hold the VA up to a higher standard for avoiding the kinds of errors and oversights that cause wounded ex-warriors to get inaccurate disability ratings, denying them vital compensation.

“The ASPIRE report is just a very nice way to summarize some of the top-level data,” said Anthony Hardie, director of the D.C. advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense. “The ­ASPIRE report should not be going away unless it’s replaced by something better and far more comprehensive.”

The Herald reported yesterday that an analysis of the ASPIRE database showed the Boston VA benefits office had the second-lowest rate of accuracy in its claims decisions of 16 VA systems in the North Atlantic region last year. In some months Boston was last, and as much as 11 percentage points below the national average. The monthly data ran until September 2016, the end of the federal fiscal year.

A spokeswoman for the national VA confirmed to the Herald yesterday that ASPIRE is no longer being updated as of September.

“Given how little ASPIRE has been used the last two years by our external customers, VA has no plan to repopulate it,” the spokeswoman said, pointing to a weekly VA summary, the Monday Morning Workload Report, that contains similar data. “Rather, we are considering other graphical approaches together with a possible modernization of the Monday MMWR.”

The MMWR reports contain similar performance data as ­ASPIRE, but vets advocates say it isn’t as easy to follow. The MMWR reports do not include aspirational goals or the monthly averages that ASPIRE did.

Hardie added timely, digestible VA data — much of which is reported out due to Congressional mandate — is vital to advocating intelligently for veterans.

“If we suddenly have the VA locking down data and not providing it anymore for whatever reason, then very quickly veterans are negatively affected,” Hardie said.

The VA announced ASPIRE in November 2010 as “part of the continuing effort of the federal government to become more transparent and accountable to the public.” In a post on its website announcing the system, the VA declared the “implications for the ASPIRE data reside in tomorrow, not today.”

The VA uses ratings for each claim to decide how much an injured vet is paid in monthly disability checks. The amount can range from $133 to $3,285, depending on the severity of the disability and how many dependents someone has.

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