By 2015, can the VA really ensure “veterans [will] wait no more than 125 days for a decision on a claim, with a 98 percent accuracy rate”? I won’t hold my breath.
Ooops, they did it again… Veterans and Congress are again disappointed by the Department of Veterans Affairs failure to prepare for the increase in disability claims it predicted. Two years ago, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki knew there would be a large increase in the number of new disability claims from Agent Orange victims and veterans returning from the wars in the Middle East. Despite last minute attempts to prepare, the VA has still fallen dramatically behind schedule, with the claims backlog almost doubling in just one year to 756,000.
The news is not all doom and gloom, however. Since 2009, the VA has amazingly completed 2 million claims. The problem appears to be rooted in the government’s own major missteps in funding and planning over the past 10 years. The initial governmental thinking was that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would be over quickly. Initial estimates from the Bush Administration was that the cost to taxpayers would be a poultry $100 billion or so. Instead, we ended up with the longest wars in United States history and long term estimates over $3 trillion in cost to taxpayers. The government did not budget or plan for the rapid increase in disabled veterans from these conflicts. This results in an under funded Department of Veterans Affairs and more disabled veterans than ever predicted, in 2001. Yet, by 2009 the government still have not responded to the foreseeable increases in disability claims despite clear predictions.
Insert common sense. Unfortunately, the VA waited too long to hire too few new claims specialists. The hiring process started at the beginning of last year. It added an additional 3,000 claims workers to the team (instead of the 4,000 needed – cutbacks), for a total of 14,000. As expected, over 2.65 million claims were filed since 2009. Currently, there’s a backlog of 750,000 claims, which is double where it was at last year when it hired the new workers. Obvious problems will likely arise from the lack of training and experience such as miscalculated compensation amounts and misdiagnosis. In fact, you can count on it. Veteran Service Officers and the agencies they represent are overloaded with claimants as well. These will be growing pains and hopefully the agency will increase its efficiency and accuracy over the next years to meet its 2015 goals. We will all be better for it.
Your Assignment. For veterans with disability claims pending, do not freak out. The world is not out to get you, specifically (it is looking to cut all veterans benefits with equal fervor). Be proactive and take control of your own claim. Here’s what this means. First, trust that no one will care for your claim more than you. In addition, don’t trust anyone. It’s just a good policy when working with the government. Be sure to do your own research. Always read the regulations or cases for yourself. Second, draft your own letters and prepare your own documentation when you talk with your VSO. Keep copies and log all communication. This will save them a ton of time and increase their desire to help you, since you’re not a pain in the neck. Third, follow up on your own claim and filing dates. This is important. Sometimes people drop the ball when working with so many claims. It is up to you to help them help you. When you get your decision back, be sure to read it over very carefully. Request a copy of your claims file to be sure everything was documented properly. This is a common misstep by many veterans, including myself. Always double check everything, especially now.
Go to DisabledVeterans.org to see more of articles on disability claims and Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation.