The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced Monday that as a result of the initiative launched in April to expedite disability compensation claims decisions for Veterans who have a waited a year or longer, more than 65,000 claims nationwide – or 97 percent of all claims over two years old in the inventory – have been eliminated from the backlog.
The initiative was centrally managed at the national level and involved all VA regional offices working claims on behalf of Veterans across the country, not just those in their geographic area or state.
The Montgomery VA Regional Office will now join in VA efforts to complete the disability claims of Veterans who have been waiting more than one year for a decision, while completing the final batch of oldest claims in progress.
"Over the past two months, VA has been dedicated to providing earned benefits to the Veterans who have waited the longest. I'm proud of our employees, who have been working long hours on this effort," said Erica P. Worthington, the Montgomery Regional Office Acting Director. "We're now focusing on eliminating the claims that are more than one year old. We've made great progress, but know much works remains to be done to eliminate the backlog in 2015."
VA completed 312 claims for Veterans in Alabama who had been waiting more than two years for a decision.
Some two-year-old claims are outstanding due to unique circumstances, such as the unavailability of a claimant for a needed medical exam, military service, vacation, or travel overseas.
This effort is a key part of VA's overall transformation plan to end the disability claims backlog by the end of 2015 and process claims within 125 days at 98% accuracy
In May, VA announced that it was mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices to increase production of compensations claims decisions, which will continue through the end of FY 2013. Today, VA has the lowest number of claims in its inventory since August 2011 and has reduced the number of claims in the VA backlog – claims pending over 125 days – by 10 percent since the initiative began.
Under this initiative, VA claims raters may make final or provisional decisions on the oldest claims in the inventory, which will allow Veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits more quickly, if eligible. Veterans are able to submit additional evidence for consideration a full year after the provisional rating before VA issues a final decision. If no further evidence is received within that year, VBA will inform Veterans that their ratings are final and provide information on the standard appeals process, which can be found at http://www.bva.va.gov/. If a Veteran disagrees with a final decision and chooses to appeal, the appeal is entered into the appellate processing system, and is not reflected in the claims inventory.
VA continues to prioritize disability claims for homeless Veterans, those experiencing extreme financial hardship, the terminally ill, former Prisoners of War, Medal of Honor recipients, and Veterans filing Fully Developed Claims, which is the quickest way for Veterans to receive a decision on their compensation claim (http://www.benefits.va.gov/fdc/).
Claims for Wounded Warriors separating from the military for medical reasons will continue to be handled separately and on a priority basis with the Department of Defense through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). Wounded Warriors separating through IDES currently receive VA compensation benefits in an average of 61 days following their separation from service.
VA's inventory is comprised mostly of supplemental claims from Veterans already receiving disability compensation who are seeking to address worsening conditions or claim additional disabilities. Regardless of the status of compensation claims, Veterans who have served in combat since Nov. 11, 1998, are eligible for five years of free medical care for most conditions from VA. This eligibility was enacted through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008.
Veterans can learn more about disability benefits on the joint Department of Defense/VA web portal eBenefits at www.ebenefits.va.gov.
INFORMATION SOURCE: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs