The Veterans Affairs Department’s latest initiative to try to reduce the backlog of compensation claims is a partnership with the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans to help veterans make sure their file has all the essential information.
VA first announced the so-called “fully developed claims” initiative in August. What’s new, VA officials said, is that the American Legion and DAV are on board with trained and certified service officers to help with claims.
The announcement comes one day before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee holds a hearing to question VA on the status of various initiatives to reduce the pile of 878,000 claims, about 67 percent of which are older than the VA’s self-imposed 125-day processing period.
On April 19, VA announced it was going to concentrate for six months on the approximately 250,000 veterans compensation claims that are at least one year old, starting with the oldest claims first. On May 15, VA ordered mandatory overtime for its 10,000 claims processors, an initiative expected to last through September, the end of the fiscal year.
Fully developed claims are those where a veteran and veterans service officer have worked together to make certain a file contains all of the information required to be approved, including service records and medical evidence. Allison Hickey, VA’s undersecretary for benefits, said in a statement that a completed file is one that “never reaches the backlog” because it does not have to be held while records are located or while the veteranreceives a medical exam. VA said it has received 66,000 fully developed claims already this year and has completed 17,000.
In August, when VA first announced it would partner with veterans’ groups, VA officials said a fully developed claim would be processed in an average 110 days while a traditional claim would take 254 days. Average processing time has increased since then. VA’s May 11 report on benefits processing says it is taking, on average, 338 days to complete a compensation claim.
As part of filing a fully developed claim, a veteran must certify he has no additional information to submit, leaving VA free to make its determination on benefits based on the supporting evidence in the file. That certification does not prevent a veteran from appealing if he is not satisfied with the claims decision.