13 May 2015

Another day waiting for VA to process my claim – Another day wasted.

VA has a neat website called eBenefits. You can find a lot of info there about their various programs, and also learn that any application for them takes months, usually years. Most usually, years.

Widely derided by veterans for its sluggish response to changes even when they do happen, the general advice by claims experts is and always has been, don't bother monitoring your claim process on eBenefits. Or by calling VA's 800-number, either. In fact, there is nothing any more effective than simply watching the postman to see if you get "the big brown envelope" some day years after applying.

Of course, VA's backlog of older claims has been cut and congratulations to Veterans Benefits Administration for that. A combination of forced overtime, retraining, online applications, computer-based awards calculations, "fully developed claims," and increased staff have brought deserved praise for the improvement.

But buried in the applause for VBA's success is the dirty secret: the claims numbers are manipulated by a variety of tricks. The biggest one is denied claims. A denied claim is then either dropped by the veteran or passed along for decision three to five years later by the Board of Veterans Appeals.

BVA then usually "remands" most claims back to the regional offices for whatever VA shortcomings they identify...wrong forms, forgotten physicals, ignored rules or procedures – a whole raft of VA errors and a list of them so long they can't all be mistakes by the original claims adjudicators. About 70% of these denied claims reaching the BVA are remanded...which is no solution as the regional office then takes months or a year to return the claim to BVA where, still, a huge percentage are simply remanded back again. More mistakes, or original mistakes not even attended to.

It can't all be by accident. And it is a terrible cycle, with claims often decided well past the veteran's death.  Another VBA "secret" is stacking difficult or complex claims for future (if ever) consideration while turning to more straightforward claims which are easier to pump out, thus allowing adjudicators to meet production goals. VA even warns veterans that their complex claims or applications with several issues at hand will take longer. Actually...we should print "PROMISES" veterans such a delay.

BVA is famous among veterans principally for the delay involved in getting one's claim before their judges. Regardless of the particulars, claims can take three to five or even more years to cycle from the local claims office through the Board of Veterans Appeals. My 2011 claim, below, has been awaiting appeal for over two years and hasn't been forwarded yet from the regional office to BVA. I can expect two or more years ahead and then odds are against any resolution, but instead, only a remand.

A frequent error committed by VA in processing claims is to deny them without even having ordered a Compensation and Pension exam, or by ordering one for some irrelevant issue not even claimed by the veteran. In either case, the denied claim forces the veteran to appeal, then has the BVA simply remand back to the regional office for the proper exam. Net loss to the veteran: perhaps one year in the basic claim and three more waiting for BVA and then another year at the local office to either award or, more likely deny again.

Fellow citizens, the months and years that VA refuses care to disabled veterans until claims are approved are terribly long periods to do without medical care, hoping to survive. Despite the wonderful people...and there are many...in BVA, too many veterans are faced with what even VA's own inspectors termed a "high risk" medical system. However, the inspectors didn't add the impact of veterans having care denied to the quality of care itself...that would have earned something even worse than "high risk."

Perhaps non-existent would be a good description for care in such a situation.

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