Facing mounting criticism over the maligned disability claims system, the US Department of Veterans Affairs spent the past two years promising to implement improvements that would virtually eliminate the backlog by the beginning of 2016. Yet, the last check shows that despite efforts, some 70,000 veterans claims pending for at least 125 days remain in limbo – and for the first time, VA officials admit that the backlog may never be cleared.
“We won’t do that just for the sake of hitting a number,” Beth McCoy, deputy undersecretary for the Veterans? Benefits Administration said in a January hearing called by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “We want to make sure that every veteran gets every benefit they are entitled to.”
Among the issues, McCoy testified, is that claims submitted by veterans unable to travel for medical exams, by those who live in other countries and by those who were exposed to radiation can take longer to process than more typical claims. Plus, the ‘typical’ claim has changed over the past decade. In 2006, an average claim involved 2.8 health issues. Today, that figure has nearly doubled to 4.6 health issues.
“We’re doing more work for a claim than we did in the past,” McCoy told committee members.
Meanwhile, one Florida lawmaker questions whether the VA is being fully transparent about the true extent of the issue and the progress it’s making. Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said that 433,000 appeals of claims decisions were pending Jan. 1, up from 250,000 in April 2013. Yet, appeals cases are not included in the backlog data. That’s because 73 percent of veterans awaiting appeals are receiving some benefits as incremental decisions are made, McCoy argued.
Miller say’s that’s not enough.
“The inference to the American public is the veterans are receiving the benefits, and the veterans are not receiving the benefits yet if they are in an appeals position,” he countered.
If you are a veteran or a veteran’s spouse having trouble getting your valid benefits claim approved, Harrell and Harrell can help. Call 800-251-1111 to speak with a veterans’ disability benefits lawyer today.