While Jonn posted some praise for the VA earlier, I have some news that might not be so praiseworthy:
Is this the right move by a Department of Veterans Affairs that has come under fire recently for the massive backlog of claims, or is it too little, too late?
The Veterans Affairs Department is expediting compensation claims decisions for veterans who have waited one year or longer, VA officials announced April 19.
Effective today, VA claims raters will make provisional decisions on the oldest claims on hand, officials said, which will allow veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits more quickly, if eligible.
Veterans will be able to submit additional evidence for consideration a full year after the provisional rating, before VA issues a final decision.
“Too many veterans wait too long for a decision, and this has never been acceptable,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. “That is why we are implementing an aggressive plan to eliminate the backlog in 2015. This initiative is the right thing to do now for veterans who have waited the longest.”
I see this backfiring in a big way.
Here’s my take:
Starting today, the VA will approve claims older than a year at the minimum level for each condition for which there is significant evidence. In order to get the proper rating, the veterans will have to submit more proof that the condition warrants a higher rating – after all, the evidence already in the claim was “reviewed” and a rating was “issued.”
So now, instead of veterans waiting for [mostly] proper ratings, they will get lowered ratings faster, and will have to wait through the appeals process for the ratings they should have gotten in the first place.
Here’s the proof:
If any increase is determined to be warranted based on the additional evidence received, benefits will be retroactive to the date the claim was initially filed. The initiative protects the veteran’s right to appeal the decision. If no further evidence is received within that year, VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration will inform the veteran that the rating is final and will provide information on the standard appeals process.
Additionally, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Jeff Miller, R-Fla., issued this statement:
“While this new approach sounds promising, we will be monitoring it closely to make sure it’s good policy rather than just good PR. Driving our skepticism is the fact that Sec. Shinseki and VA benefits officials have testified before our committee several times in just the last few weeks, yet the first official notice of this initiative didn’t come until today – minutes before VA issued its press release. Nevertheless, VA has a responsibility to make sure it doesn’t use this program as an excuse for letting average claims processing times continue their steady ascent indefinitely. Furthermore, the department must not shift resources and manpower away from processing new claims just to clear out old ones. Every veteran deserves a thorough, fair and timely evaluation of their claim, regardless of when it was filed. This policy should not interfere with that concept.
“The department’s haphazard rollout of this plan has left us with a number of important questions. So in the coming days and weeks, we expect VA to fully explain to Congress precisely how this program will improve the department’s claims processing efforts and help chip away at the mountain of backlogged benefits claims.”
The VA just put a band-aid on a sucking chest wound – and it’s going to come back to bite them big time.
TSO did point out that the approved claim will allow the veteran to seek medical care while waiting for the proper ratings to come back, rather than just waiting. Still, I think the VA is going to screw this up big time, and veterans still won’t be getting the benefits they’ve earned.
Cross-posted from After the Army.