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State of the VA

Will President Address VA’s Claim Delay and Error Crisis?

As described in our nation’s Constitution, every year the President of the United States presents his “State of the Union Address” to a joint session of Congress.

Many of America’s 22 million living Veterans and their families are concerned about the state of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). That’s because VA is the executive branch’s second-largest department, with an annual budget of $152.7 billion and more than 310,000 employees.

VA Progress on Some Fronts

VA appears to be making process on several fronts:

  • VA is reducing homelessness among our Veterans, even eliminating it in a few major cities, including Phoenix, Arizona.
  • In the narrow area of new and reopened disability claims waiting more than four months, VA earned credit with a 36 percent drop in inventory last year.
  • VA recently revealed hundreds of thousands of Vietnam War Veteran suffering illnesses related to Agent Orange poisoning are now receiving disability benefits after decades of delay.
  • VA approved nearly 400,000 claims filed by Veterans deployed to war zones and diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

VA Stagnation on Overall Claim Inventory

However, VA’s overall claim delay and error crisis continues stagnating. Appealed claims, dependency claims, and accrued benefit claims continue rising sharply because VA remains myopically focused on new and original claims.  As a result, VA’s total claim inventory stayed at 1.4 million between 2012 and 2013.

The worst area is VA’s surging claim appeal backlog. As of January 27, 2014, VA hit a new record of more than 268,000 disability claim appeals pending throughout the agency.

Errors persist in clams processing according to two recent reviews.  VA’s Inspector General testified before Congress that its inspectors identified a 30 percent error rate in high-risk claims in June 2012, along with shortages in staffing and a need for urgent training. The American Legion alleged an even higher error rate of 55 percent in its testimony before Congress in December 2013.

Our Veterans, who remained burdened with VA’s long delays and frequent errors processing disability claims, still don’t receive prompt and fair justice at VA. One specific area that needs high-level attention is PTSD claims for rape and military sexual trauma (MST).

VA’s Proposed Rules Cause Firestorm

Another emerging problem at VA is how the agency wants to fix the claim crisis by issuing new regulations mandating that all Veterans use VA’s pre-printed forms to apply benefits and appeal VA decisions.   While Veteran groups agree that VA speed and timeliness may improve with new forms, VA loaded up the agency’s proposed mandatory forms with significant obstacles that undermine Veterans’ legal rights.  The opposition to VA’s proposed Trojan Horse regulation is strong and deep.

No one knows better how the United States remains at war since August 2, 1990, than our Veterans and their families. While VA has improved in certain areas, Bergmann & Moore hopes our President’s 2014 State of the Union Addresses provides America with solutions to VA’s unresolved claim delay and error crisis.

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