By Debbie Gregory.
Have you been waiting at least a year for the Department of Veterans Affairs to process your compensation claim? If so, then there is good new; the VA has an aggressive new plan that organizers hope will award benefits to those veterans who have waited the longest. They are hoping this will clear out the backlog of cases by 2015.
Currently, it takes an average of 286 days to complete a claim. “Too many veterans wait too long for a decision and this has never been acceptable,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Claims that have been sitting in the department’s backlog for longer than a year will begin receiving provisional decisions. Once that decision is submitted, the veteran will begin receiving their monthly compensation. Those decisions will be based on the medical information provided by the veteran or gathered by the VA. If more information is needed, in the form of a medical examination, the VA will order the exam. The veteran then has a full year after the provisional rating is made to submit additional evidence about their medical condition, and have their benefits increased, if applicable. The increase will be paid retroactively to the date the claim was first filed.
After that year, the provisional decision will be deemed the final rating. Veterans will have to follow the standard appeals process if they feel that they have new information that could increase their benefit amount. Veterans have one year to appeal the decision.
Eligible veterans can utilize healthcare and other VA benefits while their claims are pending. Veterans of recent conflicts are eligible for five years of free VA healthcare benefits. Officials said more than 55 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans use VA healthcare, more than any previous generation of warfighters.
Veterans who are homeless, terminally ill, are former Prisoners of War, Medal of Honor recipients or who claim financial hardship will continue to have their claims prioritized through the new process.
VA claims for active duty service members leaving the military through the medical board process will be processed separately, through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System with the Department of Defense.
The VA’s fast track program, known as Fully Developed Claims, will continue to receive priority. Veterans who file their claims under this program are responsible for gathering all the information, documents and records to prove their disability claim. The VA will obtain service treatment records and federal treatment records only if the veteran identifies them. Since the VA does not have to track down the paperwork, the claim can be processed quicker.