Efforts to Relieve the VA Disability Backlog May Not Be as Helpful as Veterans Hope

After all the flak the VA system has gotten about improving its system, the Obama administration finally intervened to reduce wait times for veterans who need disability benefits. However, the new system to expedite disability claims has been in effect for over five years—and veterans may find that not much has changed.

Wasn’t the Online System Supposed to Help the Backlog of VA Disability Claims?

In a recent NPR interview, journalist Aaron Glantz explored the reasons why over 900,000 veterans are currently waiting for benefits despite the $537 million computer system implemented under the Obama administration. While the computer system does digitize the paperwork, fewer than half of VA offices nationwide have received the software—and even in those offices, relatively few claims have been entered into the system.

In Addition to Online Problems, Veterans Are Experiencing Delays Due To:

  • Paper problems. Ninety-seven percent of VA claims are still done on paper, leaving many VA offices overrun with stacks of applications. According to the VA inspector general, one office in Winston-Salem, N.C. was recently suffering structural damage due to the weight of the paperwork in the office.
  • Sheer numbers. Over the past few years, the VA has experienced nearly a 50 percent increase in new claims. While many of these are due to the influx of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans returning home, there have also been changes allowing Vietnam veterans to seek compensation due to diseases and disability caused by Agent Orange.
  • Understaffing. Of the nearly one-million claims currently awaiting decisions, roughly 600,000 are backlogged (meaning veterans have waited longer than four months for a decision). Veterans are currently waiting an average of 273 days for a decision, largely due to staffing problems. There are shortages in nearly every area of staff employees by the VA, including administrative clerks, evaluation staff, and medical health professionals. A lack of approved medical providers increases wait times even further, as veterans must undergo an evaluation to be approved. According to the VA inspector general, the average wait time for a mental health appointment was 50 days, simply because there are not enough medical providers available. 

Is There Anything Veterans Can Do to Help Their Claims?

While applicants can reduce unnecessary delays by filling out their applications completely and providing the VA with sufficient medical evidence, many will be stuck waiting through the “necessary” delay of application processing. However, a VA disability attorney may be able to expedite the processing of your claim by intervening on your behalf. To find out how we can help, email us at [email protected] today or download a free copy of our book, The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims.

 

Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska