VA Proposed Rule Change on New Veterans’ Claims Draws Criticism

On October 31, 2013, the VA published a proposed rule that would differentiate the way new claims for veterans disability benefits are processed based on how they are filed. The VA currently accepts as a claim any correspondence from a veteran indicating intent to file a claim for disability benefits. Under the VA proposed rule change, new claims filed electronically would be treated more favorably than those filed on paper.

According to the VA, the proposed regulation is intended to help streamline the claims process and get veterans and their families the benefits they deserve more quickly. However, many veterans advocate groups point to the proposed rule as another attempt by the VA to slow the influx of new claims as it struggles to handle the backlog. Veterans’ advocates are concerned that the proposed rule would penalize veterans who are not able to access the internet or lack the computer savvy to file an online claim because their paper claims would be treated differently.

Effective Dates of Claims Affected

The proposed change that has drawn the most criticism would alter the way effective dates (the date that benefits start being paid) for new claims are assigned. The proposed rule would assign electronic claims an effective date of when the veteran submits the claim online while paper based claims would be given an effective date when the claim is considered “complete.” This means that the veteran who files a paper claim would miss out on the retroactive benefits they could potentially be found entitled to as the VA works to develop their claims to a complete status. With many new claims taking well over a year to process and complete this proposed change could be very costly for veterans who file paper claims. Currently, a veteran who files a claim for disability benefits is entitled to an effective date of when the claim was filed in most cases regardless of whether the claim was filed online or on paper. There are special rules regarding effective dates that could result in an earlier effective date than the date the claim was filed, but the effective date assigned is not affected by how the claim was filed.

Although this rule change is only a proposal, veterans should seek out assistance from a Veterans Service Officer when filing a new claim for disability benefits in order to ensure that their claim meets VA requirements.

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