VA Announces Program to Expedite Oldest Benefit Claims
Virginia Beach, VA (Law Firm Newswire) June 19, 2013 – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it will expedite decisions on claims more than one year old.
In a news release, the VA said that effective immediately, the agency's claims raters would begin making provisional decisions on the oldest backlogged benefits claims. After a provisional rating has been given to a claim, the veteran will have one year to submit additional evidence before a final decision is issued.
“Too many veterans endure very long waits to receive desperately-needed disability benefits,” commented veteran's attorney Andrew Hook. “Hopefully this initiative will shorten the wait for many of them.”
The VA will issue provisional decisions based on all evidence provided up to that time. If a medical examination is required to make a determination on the claim, that will be expedited as well, the agency said. Veterans have the right to appeal provisional decisions.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki reiterated the agency's goal of eliminating the backlog of claims in 2015.
If after receiving provisional benefits a veteran provides additional evidence warranting an increase in payments, that increase will be retroactive to the claim's initial filing date. If no additional evidence is provided, the provisional rating will become final. Veterans will still be able to appeal final ratings.
The VA added that it will continue to prioritize claims for veterans who claim financial hardship or are homeless, terminally ill, former Prisoners of War, Medal of Honor recipients, and veterans who file Fully Developed Claims (FDC). The FDC program is an option for benefits claimants offering expedited processing and shortened paperwork in exchange for providing all evidence at once at the time the claim is submitted.
The agency warned that the initiative will skew some metrics used to measure claims processing. Because the initiative will focus on completing the oldest pending claims, the average length of time per claim will rise sharply in the short term. As more incoming claims are handled through the VA's new paperless processing system, the metric will decrease.
Eligible veterans will continue to receive healthcare and other benefits while their compensation claims are pending. More than 55 percent of newly-returning veterans are using VA health care, a rate higher than previous generations of veterans.
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