Response to the Audit
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Response From the California Department of Veterans Affairs
June 24, 2015
Ms. Elaine M. Howle, State Auditor
California State Auditor
621 Capitol Mall, Suite 1200
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Ms. Howle:
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your audit entitled “Follow-Up – California Department of Veterans Affairs: Better Collection and Use of Data Would Improve Its Outreach Efforts, and It Needs to Strengthen Its Oversight of County Veterans Service Officer Programs”.
The mission of the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) is to serve California’s Veterans and their Families. We are dedicated to our role as veterans’ lead advocate in the state which includes the responsibility of ensuring veterans and their families are effectively connected to the benefits and services they have earned through their service and sacrifice to our country.
Furthermore, CalVet acknowledges the audit report and is fully committed to meeting its obligations to California’s veterans and their families. CalVet recognizes the audit recommendations and is dedicated to achieving their implementation.
Recommendation 1 - “Veterans Services should develop and implement a plan by December 31, 2015, to routinely analyze and use myCalVet to identify trends in the services veterans and their families indicate they are most interested in and incorporate the results of such analyses into its outreach efforts.”
CalVet is incredibly proud of its development and implementation of the myCalVet portal which now serves as our public facing website. The website offers veterans, family members, and stakeholders the ability to create a personalized profile that truly delivers an individualized information delivery opportunity. Based on the profile information provided by the user, myCalVet delivers targeted information that fits those data points in a variety of areas including, but not limited to: Health, Housing, Education, Employment, Advocacy, and Claims assistance.
The website was released in March 2014, and received an award from the Center for Digital Government in October 2014. myCalVet was recognized in the State Government Category and was awarded for “Driving Digital Government”.
CalVet recognizes the opportunity to reach veterans throughout the state using the myCalVet portal and has continued to develop this tool over the past year. CalVet continues to build out the service provider database within the system, as well as continually updating and adding benefits and service information to ensure this outreach tool is as robust as possible.
As noted in your report, myCalVet has gained more than 26,000 registered users throughout its first year online. Additionally it is important to note that since coming online, myCalVet has been accessed by 781,701 users, resulting in more than 5,000,000 pages viewed. The average session duration is 4:10 minutes which demonstrates that users not only visit the site, but spend a considerable amount of time accessing its information which is a notable period of time by industry standards.
CalVet concurs with the recommendation to routinely analyze the registered users’ information and is committed to do so moving forward. However, given there are more than 1.8 million veterans in the state, it is important to recognize that information pulled from 26,000 registered users is only a small piece of the representative population and statewide outreach efforts should include the use of additional data, tools, and strategies.
Ideally, all veterans in the state will become registered users of the myCalVet portal, but until that occurs CalVet will continue to gather demographic information and conduct needs assessments through a variety of channels in which we are currently engaged, while continuing to connect veterans and their families with services and benefits through ongoing strategies and partnerships.
Several of the partnerships you touched on briefly in your report have resulted in a substantial increase in connectivity between CalVet, Veterans, and their earned benefits. A report produced by the Senate Advisory Commission on Cost Control published on May 2, 2014 showed CalVet currently has more than 640,000 veterans contact information in its database. This is an 800% increase from 2012 and is the result of numerous efforts, including that of the myCalVet launch.
CalVet entered into a partnership with the Department of Motor Vehicles which provides on average current contact information for 60,000 veterans each year. CalVet then reaches out to these veterans by providing a summary of benefits and services available along with an insert they can remit identifying areas of interest where they would like additional information. Over the past three years, CalVet has reached nearly 10% of the veteran population in the state through this effort alone. In November 2015, the veteran designation on California Driver’s License will go into effect which will significantly enhance the number of veterans contacted and connected to their benefits through this partnership.
CalVet entered into a partnership with the California State Libraries in 2013 to begin an effort called “Veterans Connect at the Library”. This effort was based on identifying the barriers of some of the state’s most disadvantaged veterans through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Homeless Point in Time Count and understanding that the library offers safety and shelter along with opportunity for veterans to connect with resources. Thus far, the program has been strategically implemented at 23 libraries throughout the state spanning from Redding to San Diego with a focus on serving traditionally underserved veterans in their communities. Two Los Angeles branches were recently honored with the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in large part because of their excellent veteran service center operations.
CalVet’s Local Interagency Network Coordinators (LINC) serve as the “boots on the ground” component of our outreach team and coordinate the efforts of service providers in their assigned regions. As demographics and needs assessments vary so dramatically throughout a state like California, it is vital that the LINC network work closely with its local community system of care to identify and incorporate outreach strategies specific to their region. The Geographic Distribution of Expenditures report, CVSO Subvention Reports, and USDVA VetPop Data all play a significant role as to what methods the LINCs use to contact, connect, and communicate with veterans. Additionally, the LINCs have provided direct outreach at 1,120 events throughout the state last year with attendance ranging from 30 veterans to 1,000 per event. Additionally, CalVet distributed more than 250,000 copies of the CalVet Veterans Resource Book and made over 392,000 referrals for supportive services.
In addition to our efforts to connect veterans with the services and benefits available through their service, CalVet partners with other state and federal agencies to assist veterans in accessing any and all potential benefits available. In 2014, CalVet partnered with the State Controller’s Office to identify veterans or their heirs that may be entitled to unclaimed property. After cross-referencing the SCO database with CalVet’s, CalVet identified more than 95,000 veterans who were entitled to unclaimed property with a value of more than $36 million. CalVet then reached out to these veterans with instructions on how to reclaim that property.
CalVet understands the significance of the myCalVet site and its potential to supply information statewide in a ongoing and cost effective way. CalVet also thanks you for acknowledging our success in its development and implementation. The site has become a model for state veteran service departments throughout the country and has already been replicated in Massachusetts. As we move forward we will increasingly incorporate the site into a larger outreach plan, but it was important to note that the Veterans Services Division continues to move forward on a variety of fronts that at this time more effectively represent the larger veteran population.
Recommendation 2 – “To determine the most successful methods for informing veterans and their families about the myCalVet website, and to increase the number of registered users, Veterans Services should evaluate myCalVet data to identify which marketing methods were most effective in informing registered users about the website. Veterans Services should complete this analysis on an annual basis beginning no later than December 31, 2015.”
CalVet is committed to the increase marketing of the myCalVet website, as well as, identifying the most effective methods of informing potential users about the site. It is important to note that all outreach efforts and materials currently produced by CalVet highlight the new site and its functionality. CalVet will engage in new marketing efforts to increase awareness of the myCalVet portal as funds are made available.
Recommendation 3 – “To ensure that the funding it distributes to the CVSOs is consistent with their actual workloads, Veterans Services should, by December 31,2015, develop and implement procedures to more thoroughly review the accuracy of the data in the CVSOs’ workload activity reports by reviewing the records that are the basis of the reports.”
In early 2013, CalVet acknowledged that the part time contractor who performed the audit functions for the CVSO subvention program was not comprehensive due to very limited time constraints. In recognizing the urgency for change within the oversight responsibilities for CVSO work, we submitted a proposal through the state budget process in fiscal year 2013-2014. A full time position was approved for hire in July 2014. We hired the full time auditor in September 2014 and immediately started the lengthy U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs accreditation and audit training process. The CalVet Auditor is now fully accredited and developing the procedures for the audit functions to include periodic reviews of CVSO claims activities submitted in the claims case management system. CalVet has worked for almost 2.5 years to increase the manpower needed to develop desk procedures and add functions such as reviewing samples of claims from CVSOs to verify the proper documents were completed for the claim.
In addition to the auditing of workload units for subvention funding distribution, CalVet District Offices throughout the state review CVSO claims for quality prior to submitting them to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure forms and documents are complete. District Office staff provide regular training and feedback to CVSOs including feedback on corrections made to incoming claims on a monthly basis, and at three CalVet-sponsored training conferences annually. As partners, CVSOs and District Office staff work together to ensure high quality claims are submitted.
Recommendation 4 – “To ensure the correctness, completeness, and consistency in its audits of the CVSOs’ workload activity reports, Veterans Services should formalize and document its audit procedures for reviewing these reports by December 31, 2015.”
In early 2013, CalVet acknowledged that the part time contractor who performed the audit functions for the CVSO subvention program was not comprehensive due to very limited time constraints. In recognizing the urgency for change within the oversight responsibilities for CVSO work, we submitted a proposal through the state budget process in fiscal year 2013-2014. A full time position was approved for hire in July 2014. We hired the full time auditor in September 2014 and immediately started the lengthy U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs accreditation and audit training process. The CalVet Auditor is now fully accredited and developing the procedures for the audit functions to include periodic reviews of CVSO claims activities submitted in the claims case management system. CalVet has worked for almost 2.5 years to increase the manpower needed to develop desk procedures and add functions such as reviewing samples of claims from CVSOs to verify the proper documents were completed for the claim. CalVet agrees that desk procedures for the audit functions are critical to ensure the audits are performed in a standardized manner now and into the future.
Recommendation 5 – “To improve its oversight of the College Fee Waiver Program, Veterans Services should develop and implement a review process for college fee waivers by December 31, 2015, to ensure that the CVSOs are not erroneously waiving college fees.”
CalVet agrees that proper oversight of this vital program for veterans and their families is the only way to ensure that these substantial benefits will be available for future generations. In early 2013, CalVet acknowledged that the part time contractor who performed the audit functions for the CVSO subvention program was not able to also provide oversight for the college fee waiver program. In recognizing the urgency for change within the oversight responsibilities for CVSO work, we submitted a proposal through the state budget process in fiscal year 2013-2014. A full time position was approved for hire in July 2014. We hired the full time auditor in September 2014 and immediately started the lengthy U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs accreditation and audit training process. The CalVet Auditor is now fully accredited and developing the procedures for the audit functions to include periodic reviews of CVSO college fee waiver approvals submitted in the claims case management system. CalVet has worked for almost 2.5 years to increase the manpower needed to develop desk procedures and add functions such as reviewing samples of college fee waivers and claims from CVSOs to verify the proper documents were completed for the waiver.
CalVet is committed to improving the lives of veterans and their families through programs such as the CalVet website, CVSO Subvention, and College Fee Waiver programs. We appreciate the efforts the California State Auditor made in an effort to improve the oversight of these invaluable programs that enhance the lives of veterans and their dependents.
California State Auditors Comments on the Response From the California Department of Veterans Affairs
To provide clarity and perspective, we are commenting on the response to our report from the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet). The numbers below correspond to the numbers we placed in the margin of CalVet’s response.
CalVet appears to misunderstand the key point of our analysis that led to this recommendation. While we do recognize in the Introduction that CalVet has taken steps unrelated to myCalVet since we issued our 2009 report to increase veterans participation in benefits, it is clear as we explain in the Audit Results that in not using information in myCalVet to enhance its outreach efforts, CalVet is missing an opportunity. Specifically, as stated in the Audit Results, myCalVet is a potentially rich source of information about veterans who register with myCalVet because these veterans create profiles containing key demographic information about themselves, such as their age, location, era of service, and whether they have dependents. Thus, while myCalVet currently contains information for only 26,000 California veterans, the information could be very useful in enriching CalVet’s outreach efforts and better connecting veterans with their benefits. We would also point out that a key element related to our third recommendation in the Audit Results is that CalVet needs to take steps to increase the number of registered users in myCalVet.
During the course of our audit and in numerous interviews with CalVet officials, CalVet never provided us with a May 2014 report by the Senate Advisory Commission on Cost Control that it references in its response or informed us about a CalVet database containing contact information for more than 640,000 veterans. Further, it is not clear from CalVet’s response whether or how it uses the contact information for these veterans to enhance its outreach efforts and better connect veterans with benefits they need, which is the key point related to this recommendation.
CalVet appears to suggest that we do not describe other outreach efforts it has undertaken to connect with veterans in our report. We disagree. Specifically, in the Introduction we describe the integral role its eight regional local interagency network coordinators play to connect veterans with available benefits and services. Additionally, in the Introduciton we describe two formal agreements CalVet has with the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to better identify and connect with veterans. Nonetheless, as we indicate in the Audit Results, we believe that myCalVet is a potentially rich source of information about the attributes and needs of registered veterans and CalVet should use this information to enhance its outreach to veterans.
CalVet’s response indicates it will be implementing this recommendation by identifying the most effective methods of informing potential users about myCalVet. Although it goes on to discuss engaging in new marketing efforts that it believes will require additional funds, this was not part of our recommendation.