The Chairs of the Senate VA Backlog Working Group released the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act last week. The VA Backlog Working Group March 2014 Report was also published. “The backlog has been a persistent and inexcusable problem,” stated Senator Bob Casey (D-PA):
Our Nation’s heroes shouldn’t have to wait for months or more for their claims to be addressed. It is unacceptable that some veterans in Pennsylvania have waited a year or longer to get their disability claims processed, such as 345 days in Pittsburgh and 309 days in Philadelphia. Veterans deserve a comprehensive and permanent solution to this problem, and our hope is that this legislation will ensure we reach that goal.
The VA Backlog Working Group March 2014 Report
The Report is a 47 page document worth reading. It begins with a brief summary of the history of the VA backlog which first attracted attention in 1993. Since then, the backlog has grown. Currently 700,000 claims are pending at the 56 Regional Offices. Over 400,000 of those claims have been pending longer than 125 days. The Report also identifies 8 different reasons at different times that explain the backlog. The list of reasons includes the growing complexity of claims, the Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000 which added steps to the claims process, and the growing list of diseases presumed to have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
The Backlog Working Group proposes multiple changes which are written into the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act. The proposals are divided into three areas:
- Provide veterans with the information and tools necessary to provide accurate information to the VA efficiently;
- Make structural changes at the Veterans Board of Appeals and Regional Offices to “ensure claims are being processed quickly, particularly as the VBA transitions to an electronic claims processing environment”;
- Make veteran benefits claims a priory across the federal government.
Most of the ideas in the Report do not appear novel or original; but, the Act certainly will change the way the VA does business. For example, Section 106 is the “Requirement to use Department of Veterans Affairs form 21-0958 in regional offices for filing of notices of disagreement.” Our veterans benefits advocates have been using that particular form since spring 2013, so this advocate will not change our normal course of business, but this will have an impact on veterans who do not carefully read the form and include all the necessary information to secure the appeal. That might include specifically identifying the disabilities which the veteran intends to appeal. Simply stating “Agent Orange Disability,” will likely result in the VA declining the filing or declaring that the notice of disagreement is incomplete, depending on the method used to file the notice of disagreement.
With the passage of this Act – and the establishment of new VA regulations – sound advocacy and representation, which is exactly the service our firm provides, will become even more vital to veterans.
Do You Need Help Applying for Veterans Benefits?
We recognize how confusing the maze of changing advocates and rules can be. Don’t hesitate to contact our team with your questions or get a free case evaluation. You should not lose out on the benefits you need simply because the VA’s processes are over-complicated.