Appealed Claims: The VA’s Worst Kept Secret

Backlog of Veterans with appealed disability claims growing, not shrinking.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been touting its reduction in the backlog of unprocessed disability claims. But House members last month questioned the veracity of VA’s boastful assertions.

As The Hill reported last month, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said during a hearing that VA was “hiding the numbers.” He questioned VA’s goal of processing claims within 125 days and criticized the department for poor record-keeping.

What’s worse, the department rarely even mentions appealed claims. Why? Because that number is clearly not shrinking. Men and women with appealed claims have been waiting the longest to get decisions on their disability claims; they’re are forced to wait as long as three years for VA to process these claims.

Not only are these folks forgotten, their numbers are growing. There are currently 279,788 pending appeals, according to VA’s Monday Morning Workload Report (MMWR) this week. This is up from the 253,000 Veterans waiting for their appeals to be adjudicated last November.

How do these delays square with the agency’s mandate to expeditiously process claims?  “The U.S. Code is clear,” explained Bergmann & Moore partner Glenn Bergmann, who noted that remand of appealed claims are required to be afforded expeditious treatment in 38 U.S.C. § 5109B.

What does that mean? In VA parlance, Bergmann explained, “It equates to two to three years of wait. In the meantime, Veterans or widows in survivor claims give up or die. It’s the sad truth, but no one seems to care.”

Reductions in the claims backlog at VA are only true if you don’t pay attention to appeals. VA is just sneakily shuffling claims from one place to another.

Said Jim Strickland of VA Watchdog, “Nobody trusts the numbers that VA offers. The public doesn’t understand that here is where gaming the numbers began. Rather than choosing a statistical model and sticking with it, VA changes the metrics of the MMWR to better present their alleged successes.”

As Mark Twain and others have said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Perhaps, Strickland noted, “He (Twain) was looking into the future and seeing the VA.”







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