Congressman Predicts “Tsunami” of VA Claim Appeals

Bergmann & Moore Provides Statement to Congress on Behalf of Veterans with Claim Appeals. 

Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) expects a flood of Veterans’ disability compensation claim appeals as a result of a recent effort by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to identify and process claims languishing two years or longer.

“Many experts have cautioned that VA will soon be encountering a tsunami of appeals”, Bilirakis said at a June 18, 2013 hearing held by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s disability assistance panel. “VA cannot ignore this part of the process. They must be adequately prepared”. Army Times quoted the Congressman in the paper’s print edition for July 1, 2013 describing how the VBA initiative to process the oldest claims first could actually force Veterans into a complicated appeals process that can easily last another three years.

Bilirakis told the Congressional committee that a simple appeal filed with VBA adds an average of 1, 040 days to the wait; but a Veteran who further appeals to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims or to the federal court can expect an additional wait of 2,000 days or longer. The Army Times reports that, according to VA records, 251,000 compensation claim appeals are currently pending along with 808,074 pending initial claims.

Bergmann & Moore was asked by Congress to provide a statement for the hearing describing VBA’s chronic inability to process appealed claims in a timely manner. We specifically sited VA’s lack of a plan to handle appealed claims in an expedited manner, as required by law.

Partners Glenn R. Bergmann and Joseph R. Moore also provided a list of practical solutions so VBA can accurately and quickly process appealed claims languishing at VBA and told Congress that there is no “silver bullet” solution to VBA’s chronic problems and no single fix for VBA’s willful failure to adjudicate claims on appeal from the Board and Court in an expedited manner.

“We believe a set of practical solutions and vigorous oversight should provide the information and tools VBA and Congress need to accurately identify and properly resolve this longstanding issue and thereby improve VBA’s appeal claim processing speed and accuracy for our Veterans and their families”, read our statement to Congress.

“Time is of the essence. Our bottom line is that no Veteran should die waiting on a VBA claim decision, especially Veterans who received a remand from the Board or the Court and are entitled to an expedited final adjudication of their claim as required by law”. As many as 53 Veterans die each day waiting on a VBA claim decision.

The appeals process can be difficult for an unrepresented Veteran, especially a Veteran with brain damage (such as traumatic brain injury, or TBI) or a mental health condition (such as posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD). Our full statement is available at the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s website.

VA press release says VBA processed nearly all the claims pending two years or longer. The press release, however, says nothing about accuracy, only speed.

VA is wrapping up the first step in a six-month process during which Bilirakis predicts 300,000 older compensation claims will be processed.  The bright side is that this could help reduce a portion of the VA’s very old claims inventory. Unfortunately, as the Congressman noted, this could also become a a serious problem if  these claims are appealed because of VBA’s errors.

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