The Veterans Affairs Department on Friday announced that it would fast-track disability claims from vets who have been waiting a year or longer for benefits.
The move will allow many vets to receive compensation more quickly, and give them an extra year to submit any additional evidence that would increase those benefits. Vets will receive their benefits immediately after the department issues a “provisional decision” based on documentation filed to date for a claim. If a vet needs a medical exam to begin receiving benefits right away, that will be expedited as well, the department said.
VA then will issue a final decision on a veteran’s benefits within a year. “If any increase is determined to be warranted based on the additional evidence received, benefits will be retroactive to the date the claim was initially filed,” stated a department press release. Vets also can appeal claims decisions.
“Too many veterans wait too long for a decision, and this has never been acceptable,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in a statement. “That is why we are implementing an aggressive plan to eliminate the backlog in 2015. This initiative is the right thing to do now for veterans who have waited the longest.”
The department recently has come under intense pressure from lawmakers, vets groups and others to fix the broken claims process. The claims backlog, now somewhere around 900,000, has been a longstanding problem for the department. It currently takes 286 days to complete a claim, and the department warned that the new initiative to process the oldest claims first will further delay benefits for some other vets. VA said as it shifts over to an electronic claims system, the department’s average processing “will significantly improve,” the press release said.
VA said it will continue to prioritize claims for homeless vets, those claiming financial hardship, the terminally ill, former prisoners of war, Medal of Honor recipients and vets filing fully developed claims, while it expedites the older claims.
While compensation claims are pending, eligible vets can receive health care and other benefits from VA. Veterans who have served in recent conflicts are eligible for 5 years of free health care from the department.