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If you turn on the TV, read a newspaper, and especially scroll through your Facebook Timeline, you know that there is a VA backlog. We know it is an issue, and that it is going to be an issue for a while, but why is the VA taking so long?
The good news is that the VA, and the government as a whole, acknowledges that there is a problem. The VA is taking it seriously enough to address the backlog in the media, and via their website and social media accounts. While there is a lot of information out there already about what’s going on, most of it is opinion. We want to give our Veterans a little insight to what to expect with such a large backlog.
First of all, the VA states it hasn’t always been this bad. That is a very true statement. As a law firm that has handled VA claims since 2008, we have seen this get progressively worse over the years. Sure, claims have never been processed overnight, but what used to take 7-9 months now takes more than 18 months to process. The media and the VA state the number one reason for this time shift is the amount of claims being processed. This is an accurate statement, but it is not the only reason. Other things occurred over the past few years that contributed to the backlog. For one, the Nehmer laws contributed to the backlog in recent years. Without getting into the convoluted facts about the Nehmer case, it dealt with claims pertaining to Agent Orange exposure. A lot of cases that were once denied had to be reevaluated, and this took a lot of time.
The VA states that all of these new claims that are being filed by younger Veterans have more issues than in the past. According to the Associated Press, these new Veterans are claiming eight to nine ailments on average, and the most recent ones over the last year are claiming 11 to 14. By comparison, Vietnam veterans are currently receiving compensation for fewer than four, on average, and those from World War II and Korea, just two.
Another factor that contributes to the backlog is the fact that the VA is not paperless. For instance, at our firm, once we receive anything about your claim, it is scanned into a computer system, and any of the employees who work on VA claims can access your file. Within moments we can look at your claim file, we can see you most recent decisions, and even all of your medical evidence. This is organized into neat categories, and makes our process smooth. On the other hand, the VA is not paperless. They have physical files still. This is something that the VA is working on changing, but it will not happen overnight.
Any realtor will tell you it’s all about “Location, location, location.” (Or possibly now it’s more about finance.) Regardless, your location is still a major factor in the length of your claim. The following story is completely true. While writing this blog I received a call from a Veteran who lives in Maine. If you are like me, you forget that Maine is a state from time to time as it is pretty quiet for the most part. The Veteran assured me that it was indeed a real location, and that he received his initial decision, as well as a decision from an appeal within a year. I responded by asking him if he was sure, and he responded, “yes.” I then asked a follow up question: “Are you positive?” Once again he responded by saying “yes.” I was a little stunned by this timeline. An initial decision and a decision from an appeal within a year? I spoke to our VA Manager Rhonda, and she stated that Maine is indeed a state, and that they are very quick. So, I had no choice but to conclude that the Maine Regional Office works harder than all of the others in the US. Rhonda responded to this statement by scolding me. She informed me that Maine has a lot fewer Veterans than North Carolina and West Virginia, and most other states. When hearing this news I thought of writing a blog informing all of the Veterans to move to Maine. Surely this would speed up their cases. I was once again wrong. Rhonda told me that moving slows down claims too. All of the aforementioned paper files from above have to be transferred from one office to the other. That is not as simple as shipping your file via UPS.
Another issue we see that will hold up a VA Claim is double dipping. Another way to put it is submitting the same piece of evidence multiple times. For instance instead of submitting multiple statements about an issue, submit one well thought out statement. Only submit multiple statements if you have had a substantial change. Also, submitting medical records multiple times can have the same affect. When you have representation like Jan Dils Attorneys at Law, they take care of submitting evidence for you.
While we have had some fun above, there is no question that this is a major issue for any Veteran. The backlog will likely be around for a while. Though we can’t speed up your case, there is still a lot we can do for your claim. Give us a call today for a free phone consultation, or ask to be contacted here.
We are often asked by Veterans ways in which we can help them speed up their cases. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of options. However, we do have some helpful tips for preventing your case from slowing down.
- Submit all paperwork on time to the VA. It may seem like common sense, but a lot of claims are closed because Veterans fail to submit appeals in a timely manner. Of course, the sooner appeals and paperwork are submitted for your claim, the quicker the VA can do their job.
- Seek treatment for your disabilities. Regardless of when you served and what type of claims you have applied for, medical evidence will help you get service connected. Often times a diagnosis is required for service connection.
- Attend all of your required exams. Throughout the process the VA will schedule you for compensation and pension exams. These are required exams. Failure to report for one of these exams may result in an automatic denial.
- Attend hearings when they are scheduled. We realize everyone has unexpected issues, but if you can make it to a scheduled hearing, do so. If you can’t attend, make arrangements to have your hearing rescheduled as soon as possible. Like with anything in the VA there is a long wait for hearings, so if you can’t make it to your hearing, it may be a long time before another one is scheduled.
- Be aware of what happens when you move. Regardless if you are moving across town or across country the VA needs to know when you move. If you stay within your state, or within the area of your Regional Office, the VA needs to know your new address. We’ve had countless Veterans tell us that they didn’t receive any correspondence from the VA for years. It turns out they never told the VA about moving, and the Veteran failed to receive notices about claims. If you change regional offices, there is the possibility of a delay when your file is transferred.
- File claims at the same time. It is recommended by our attorneys that Veterans apply for all benefits in which they wish to pursue at the same time. While you can apply for separate claims throughout the process, it is quicker to apply for them all in one fell swoop. Some of our clients say I want to get condition X taken care of before condition Y. This is not necessary.
- Apply for benefits. Perhaps the number one thing that can speed up your case…applying in the first place. It's hard to recall how many Veterans told me they hesitated to apply because they didn’t want to seem weak and they didn’t feel as if they deserved benefits. First of all, there are over 900,000 claims pending in the US right now, so you are not alone. Second, if you served your country, received a discharge other than dishonorable, and are disabled-even slightly-as a result of your time in service, then you are entitled to benefits. That is not just how I feel; it’s the basic requirements as set forth by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
These are just a few quick tips to help you with your claim. However, one of the best things you can do is hire Jan Dils Attorneys at Law to assist with your claim. We can take care of the paperwork for you, submit appeals on your behalf, and attend hearings. For more information on the services we provide, call us today for a free consultation. 1-877-526-3457
If you are a Veteran who has filed for VA Disability compensation, then you are aware that one of the biggest challenges you face is a long wait. At the current time, the average wait time for a VA Disability claim takes 2-4 years. There is a good chance that you aren’t aware of why this process takes so long. We addressed some of these issues in a previous blog post; however, a recent article by the Associated Press sheds even more light on the backlog at the VA.
The May 27th article states that 45 percent of the 1.6 million Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking service connected compensation. In other words, the 720,000 new Veterans claiming service connected compensation have filed claims in a relatively short period of time.
The article goes on to state that the types of claims are also different than those in past wars. “The new Veterans have different types of injuries than previous Veterans did. That's partly because improvised bombs have been the main weapon and because body armor and improved battlefield care allowed many of them to survive wounds that in past wars proved fatal.”
The AP breaks down the types of claims as follows:
Of those who have sought VA care:
-More than 1,600 (Veterans) lost a limb; many others lost fingers or toes.
-At least 156 are blind, and thousands of others have impaired vision.
-More than 177,000 have hearing loss, and more than 350,000 report tinnitus – noise or ringing in the ears.
-Thousands are disfigured, as many as 200 of them so badly that they may need face transplants. One-quarter of battlefield injuries requiring evacuation included wounds to the face or jaw, one study found.
Other Veterans have invisible wounds. More than 400,000 of these new Veterans have been treated by the VA for a mental health problem, most commonly, PTSD. Tens of thousands of Veterans suffered traumatic brain injury, or TBI – mostly mild concussions from bomb blasts – and doctors don't know what's in store for them long-term.
Disability claims from all Veterans soared from 888,000 in 2008 to 1.3 million in 2011. Last year's included more than 230,000 new claims from Vietnam Veterans and their survivors because of a change in what conditions can be considered related to Agent Orange exposure. Those complex, 50-year-old cases took more than a third of available staff.
If you are a Veteran who has a claim pending, or if you have questions about applying, don’t hesitate to give our office a call: 1-877-526-3457. We would love to talk to you about your claim, and answer any questions you may have.