By JIM VINES
The backlog of veterans claims processing has been disastrous over the past few years. On April 19, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced initiatives to expedite compensation claims decisions for veterans who have waited one year or longer.
VA claims raters will make provisional decisions on the oldest claims in inventory, which will allow veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits more quickly, if eligible. Veterans will be able to submit additional evidence for consideration a full year after the provisional rating, before the VA issues a final decision.
Too many veterans have waited too long for a decision on their benefits and the VA finds this to be unacceptable, and that is why the VA is implementing this aggressive plan to eliminate the backlog. This initiative is the right thing to do for veterans who have waited the longest.
Provisional decisions will be based on all evidence provided to date by the veteran or obtained on their behalf by the VA. If a VA medical examination is needed to decide the claim, it will be ordered and expedited.
Provisional decisions not only provide veterans with applicable benefits much more quickly, but also gives them an additional one-year safety net to to submit further evidence should it become available. The VA will consider a veterans additional evidence, in which case they will be fast-tracked.
If any increase is determined to be warranted based on the additional evidence received, benefits will be retroactive to the date the claim was initially filed. The evidence protects the veterans right to appeal the decision. If no further evidence is received within that year, VBA will inform the veteran that their rating is final and provide information on the standard appeals process, which can be found at www.bva.va.gov.
As a result of this initiative, metrics used to track benefits claims will experience significant fluctuations. The focus on processing the oldest claims will cause the overall measure of the average length of time to complete a claim, currently 286 days to skew, rising significantly in the near term because of the number of old claims that will be completed. Over time, as the backlog of oldest claims is cleared and more of the incoming claims are processed electronically through the VA’s new paperless processing system, the VA’s average time to complete claims will significantly improve. In addition, the average days pending metric, or average age of a claim in the inventory, will decease since the oldest claims will no longer be part of the inventory.
While compensation claims are pending, eligible veterans are able to receive health care and other benefits from the VA. Veterans who have served in recent conflicts are eligible for five years of free health care from the VA. Currently, 55 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are using VA health care, a rate of utilization greater than previous generations of veterans.
To learn more about disability benefits go to www.ebenifits.va.gov/ebenefits-portal.
Jim Vines is commander of AmVets Post 133.