House Considers Trimming Years off VA Appeal Process


By Debbie Gregory.

Of the hundreds of thousands veterans who file disability claims each year, approximately 10% of them will appeal the decision made on their claim, either because they disagree with the decision, don’t understand it, or are simply exercising their right to do so.

A large percentage of appeals are filed by veterans who are already receiving VA disability compensation, but are seeking either a higher level of compensation or payment from an earlier effective date.

This has caused veterans who are in the appeal process waiting an average of five years for their decision.

VA officials have repeatedly said that without changes in the law governing how often veterans can restart the appeals process, they can only make small improvements.

There are nearly half a million pending appeals cases. In an effort to fix this clearly broken process, members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have debated draft legislation to overhaul the process.

“VA’s current appeals system is slow, cumbersome and just doesn’t serve veterans well,” said Phil Roe, (R-TN). “We have to do better … Congress has to make some changes to give VA the tools it needs to ensure that veterans receive a fair and timely decision on their appeals.”

New options on how veterans could have their cases appealed include waiving the chance to submit new evidence or official hearings in favor of quicker resolutions, or retaining those rights, but facing stricter timelines for submissions and responses. The Open Record, which allows veterans to add evidence at any time in the process to provide extra clarity or strength to their case, seems like a great idea, but if the veteran does submit new evidence, the claims review process starts all over again.

But the Vietnam Veterans of America released a statement calling the proposed legislation problematic, saying it “ignores the need for legal precedent in the VA claims process, limits due process protections, and compromises the non-adversarial, pro-veteran claims system at the convenience of VA.”

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Veterans’ Disability Claims Turning Around Faster

disability claim

By Debbie Gregory.

The Veterans Affairs Department says the National Work Queue, an electronic workload management initiative designed to reduce the claims backlog and improve processing wait times, is helping the department turn around veterans’ disability claims more quickly.

The National Work Queue is a national workload approach for processing claims, which, in some cases, may result in a veteran’s claim being processed outside of their home state.

The National Work Queue automatically assigns a veteran’s claim to a Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) regional office that has available employees and expertise to process it. In the past, the department processed a veteran’s claim at the regional office in the state where he or she lived.

The backlog of disability claims is higher now than it was before VA stood up the National Work Queue because more veterans are submitting more claims.

The number of disability claims rose from roughly 76,000 in May 2016 — before VA fully implemented the National Work Queue, to nearly 101,000 as of Feb. 4, 2017, according to Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), chairman of the House VA subcommittee.

“As we get more efficient, more veterans are aware of benefits that are available to them,” said Willie Clark, deputy undersecretary for field operations at VBA. “They come in and submit more claims.”

The backlog of claims waiting for initial review dropped from 56,000 pending cases in May 2016 to 18,000 by the end of January 2017.

In 2015, VA completed 45 percent of veterans’ claims within 125 days. As of January 2017, 66 percent of claims finished within the 125-day standard.

So far in 2017, the average number of days for VBA to make the first developmental action dropped from 25 to 10. The average time for a rating decision fell from 29 to 16 days. Award time dropped from eight to four days, and the authorization time fell from four to two days.

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