New VA Efforts to Expedite Vets’ Claims Process

Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act
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By Sam Bocetta:

For the 450,000 plus American war veterans who have been waiting for ages for a ruling on their claim appeals, the future’s looking bright.

Veterans Affairs officials have rolled out the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, a bill designed to accelerate the claims process.

But that’s not all. VA officials have also introduced the Decision Ready Claims initiative which promises to deliver decisions in 30 days or less. This process enables vets to submit claims with hardly any advance paperwork, thus easing the burden placed on those working at the VA.

Akin to the Fully Developed Claim process developed by the VA back in 2013, the Decision Ready Claims process will make for an expedited resolution to current claims. It will also give groups like the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) the power to peruse documentation and solicit additional evidence.

It’s been a long time coming (the current system hadn’t been amended since 1993) with the number of vets seeking appeals on their disability ratings rising by a whopping 30 percent in the last few years alone.

The part that angered some of us the most was the fact that all vets were expected to go through the same protracted process, no matter the seriousness of their disability or the deterioration of the same. And if that wasn’t bad enough, any time a veteran attempted to present new evidence of their claim, they were forced to start the claim process all over again from the first step.

Veteran Affairs Secretary David Schulkin was on hand when President Trump signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. According to Schulkin, he had seen multiple appeals cases that took more than six years to be processed.

That was extremely disheartening for those among us who lost limbs defending our great nation. It came as a slap in the face to all veterans afflicted with long-term medical conditions.

Of course, not all of us were able to hear it since many of us were ill-equipped when we went into battle and suffered hearing loss as a result. Exposure to IEDs, RPGs and mortar fire have left many a US soldier with permanent hearing problems, at least in part because the military did not issue appropriate ear protection.

Others of us were not able to see the writing on the wall because we lost our eyesight after serving our country or developed Choroidal Melanoma. Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange are among those soldiers who are 17 times more likely to develop eye cancer than the average bear.

If said veterans had been properly outfitted with decent eyewear, chances are strong that such conditions would not have manifested. But as most vets will tell you, the effects of Agent Orange were woefully downplayed by our commanding officers and the powers that be they answered to.

Luckily for those dealing with such maladies, this new act will speed up the process when it comes to receiving the benefits we deserve.

The process will now be streamlined by way of a “three-lane option.” The three lanes are as follows:

  • Local Higher Review
  • New Evidence
  • Board Review

The Local Higher Level Review will provide veterans a quicker resolution to their claim by a higher-level adjudicator at the VA Regional Office. Vets who believe they have all of the evidence sufficient for proving their case will be eligible for this lane.

New Evidence will apply to those veterans who are submitting new info to the VA Regional Office.

Board Review will eliminate the unnecessary intermediate steps that are typically required by statute to receive a Board review. Communication will likewise become a non-issue since hearing and non-hearing cases will be reviewed on two disparate dockets.

An important provision of the new act makes it mandatory for the VA to clearly inform vets of the reason(s) behind the decision made in a case. This should make it so that veterans can better understand whether they should file an appeal and what lane is appropriate for their respective case.

The near-unanimous support for the bill among multiple veterans’ organizations (AMVETS, DAV, VFW, etc.) speaks to the widespread understanding of the outdated system that was previously in place as well as the need for vet reform.

Veteran awareness is growing across the US with military-friendly websites offering giveaways, websites providing veterans’ discounts and the Army & Airforce Exchange Service expanding to the online world.

Overstock is giving free Club O memberships to vets and Apple has established a Military/Government & Veterans Purchase Program. Then you have gun sites like Cabela’s that offer 5% off Legendary Salute discounts to both active and retired military personnel.

For all of those wounded warriors who are living on a fixed income, it’s a better time than ever before to live comfortably as well as frugally.

The VVA (Vietnam Veterans of America) are the only organization to see these changes as a bad thing. In the words of their representative Rick Weidman, the new bill will come at too great a price to veterans. Weidman believes that the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act will undercut individual protections like the duty-to-assist obligations of the VA during appeals.

But other organizations are quick to dismiss this accusation. DAV executive director Garry Augustine has made it clear that the duty-to-assist obligation will not apply during the initial phases of appeal and that it will only be in place for when a vet needs to file an appeal within a year based on new evidence or if a formal appeal needs to be heard before a judge.

As for the Decision Ready Claims process, while it was only in a pilot phase as of May of 2017, the VA says that it is expected to expand to additional disability claims within the next few months. For more info on the initiative, including organizations that work with vets, go here on the VA website.

There are currently 150,000 new appeals pending so the new bill couldn’t have come soon enough.

© Copyright by Sam Bocetta, 2017. All rights reserved.

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Sam Bocetta
About Sam Bocetta 7 Articles
Sam Bocetta is a retired contractor who worked for over 35 years as an engineer specializing in cyber warfare and Navy computer systems. Past projects include the development of EWTR systems, Antifragile EW project, and development of Chaff countermeasures. Sam now teaches at Algonquin Community College in Ottawa, Canada as a part time engineering professor.