VA Declares a New VSO Open for Business and the Indiana Legislature Steps Up to Help

The VA received about 1 million new claims in 2013, and VA planners are expecting that number to increase in 2014. Allison Hickey, the VA Undersecretary, said that about 60% of those claims were reviewed by a VSO (Veterans Service Organization). This leaves about 400,000 new claims – not appeals – being filed without assistance. All things being equal, in this year – 2014 – the DVA will receive over 400,000 new claims that will not have been reviewed or vetted in any way.

MOAA Approved a VSO Just as New VA Filing Rules are Criticized

So, the addition of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) to the list of VA authorized VSOs will be helpful; but, the MOAA is not expecting to manage a high volume of claims. So, the recognition is largely symbolic in terms of practical impact.

This announcement is well timed, because the VA is under concerted criticism for a new set of rules which nearly every major VSO agrees will shift a large burden for securing benefits from the VA onto veterans. The Wounded Warrior Project, DAV, and New York State Department of Veterans Affairs, have all publicly criticized new filing rules by arguing that the rules dramatically change the relationship between veterans and the VA. To read those public criticisms, go to www.regulations.gov, and perform a search for VA rules for which the public comment period has closed. The new rules were published on October 31, 2013.

The new rules favor filing claims via computer, require more specific filings, abolish the informal claim, and may make appealing a decision a very technical pleading more akin to a court filing than an administrative action. This system is complex, and even Allison Hickey admits that. In an article in Stars and Stripes, January 11, 2014, Hickey is quoted as saying: “[i]t’s not designed to be complicated. It’s just a complex system by its nature.”

Veterans Should be Able to Hire Advocates at the Outset of the Benefits Application Process

Nevertheless, despite the almost unanimous agreement that the system is complex, the advocate – via a system of very complex rules and code sections – stops veterans from hiring advocates at the beginning of the process. Furthermore, many veterans with mental illness are the ones least able to manage the system. So, the regime risks marginalizing those who are least able, those who are already – to a greater and lesser extent – already marginalized. As has been argued previously at this site, to make a real impact, veterans should be allowed to hire advocates of their own choosing at the beginning of the process – not two or three years into “litigation.”

Ultimately, the burden from these regulations will shift from the veterans to VSOs. Hence, this recent announcement is timely and arguably politically savvy. It is a way for the VA to answer arguments that the shifting burden will belabor veterans. The message is, in effect, help is available – a new national VSO is now open for business. Whether that message is accurate – that enough effective advocates are ready to assist – is something veterans will discover in the next few years. This writer is skeptical — but not cynically so.

Indiana Legislature Proposes Veterans Disability Clinic Fund

As an aside, the Indiana legislature is making efforts to help. HB 1381 is a proposal to create a Veterans Disability Clinic Fund. The text tells us that “the veterans disability clinic fund is established to provide funding for grants to qualified advocate schools that establish or maintain a veterans disability clinic.” An important provision of the bill is that money in the fund at the end of the state fiscal year does not revert to the general fund or to any other fund. Like the VA’s announcement, this is the Indiana legislature’s effort to help address the upcoming crowd of veterans who will need help filing and appealing claims under the VA’s new regime. The legislation is a good idea, and we hope it passes into advocate. Yet, like the VA’s announcement about the MOAA, a handful of advocate clinics will not have a practical impact on the “big picture” of the totality of new claims filed at the Indiana Regional Office.

How Our Veterans Disability Compensation Advocates Can Help

Our advocates stand at the ready to assist veterans and their families through the complex legal process of filing for veterans disability compensation. We will do everything we can within the advocate to advance your claim and ensure you receive the benefits to which you are entitled. We strongly believe that handshake and a medal is not enough, and we must actively seek the improvement of the living conditions of our former armed forces members.

We welcome you to read more about why veterans hire us.

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