Veterans appealing a denial of VA benefits are currently waiting about five years for a determination, and if the present pace continues, vets 10 years from now could be waiting as long as 25 years for an answer. That’s the bottom line from a recent article by Luanne Rife of The Roanoke Times. Ms. Rife estimates that 470,000 veterans are currently “caught in the bureaucratic purgatory of the VA’s benefits appeals process,” including 73-year-old Thomas Hundley, a Vietnam-era vet who suspects Agent Orange exposure produced the tumor on his spine that has practically crippled him.
Mr. Hundley is not alone: 11 to 12 percent of veterans applying for disability payments have to appeal their cases after being denied benefits for service-related illnesses or being granted an insufficient award. The appeals process can be lengthy, as each processor who touches the file seems to find some deficiency that must be addressed. But, as Ms. Rife explains, the nonlinear appeals process “allows veterans to keep adding evidence to their files,” but “each addition sends the case back through a loop… [so that] simple cases with small errors that require just a higher level of review at the regional office are funneled into the same first-in, first-served pipeline.”
As a result, she notes that the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, only one part of a very complicated system, predicted in its 2015 fiscal year report that its caseload would increase by the end of this fiscal year to more than 300,000 appeals. Someone should be able to figure out a work-flow solution, and perhaps the VA finally has. The agency is suggesting the creation of three separate lanes: one for simple claims, a second for files in need of supplemental information, and a third to handle complex claims requiring review by the appeals board or federal court. Unfortunately, the VA does not have authority to heal itself: an overhaul of the VA review system requires congressional action. Unfortunately, as Congress continues to talk, veterans continue to wait.
Stay tuned for blogs relating to actual cases and the years of backlog in appeals.
Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban fights to reduce the waiting time for veterans appealing disability benefit denials. If you have had your claim denied, call us from anywhere in the nation at 866-866-VETS or contact our office online.