VA Extends Response Period Due to Mailing Delays
Veterans and claimants continue to experience delays at nearly every stage of the VA claims and appeals process, which includes significant VA mailing delays. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is currently working through a backlog of hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail.
For the past few months, outgoing VA letters have been arriving anywhere from 30 to 60 days after the date on the notice. These mailing delays have affected the ability of claimants to meet the required response deadlines.
On November 30, 2021, VA released a statement on its mailing delays. In an effort to counteract issues caused by the delays, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is extending their response period by 90 calendar days for claimants with letters dated between July 13, 2021 and December 31, 2021.
In addition, if claimants do not reply to time-sensitive VA notifications, VBA will not deny, reduce, or terminate benefits unless:
- The claimant is contacted and there is documentation of their right to respond;
- The requested information has been received; OR
- The response period has come to an end.
VA stated on December 1, 2021 that it expects the mailing issue to be resolved by the end of the month, with the backlog cleared by mid-January 2022. To achieve this goal, the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) allocated an additional facility to process mail and VBA has enlisted another vendor to assist with increased capacity.
How Did This Happen and What Caused the Mailing Delays?
Traditionally, VA was always responsible for its own mailing, and did so in a successful and timely manner. However, in the past few years, VA began using external vendors to process and send its mail. More recently, VA contracted with the Government Publishing Office to print its mail and send it out. According to VA, this was the root of the issue, as the GPO had serious printing and mailing delays due to supply chain and staffing shortages. The GPO issues were compounded by delays across the entire United States Postal Service (USPS).
In addition, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) continues to experience delays in the processing of its incoming mail. This means that incoming mail is not uploaded into the VA systems in a timely manner. These issues also extend to electronic filing, which has been backlogged due to personnel shortages.
VA Claims and Appeals Backlog Update November 2021
VA Claims Backlog
As of November 27, 2021, VA is experiencing a backlog of around 256,045 pending claims, including claims for disability compensation, pension benefits, and dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) for survivors.
To help reduce this backlog, VA hired 2,000 new claims processors in October 2021. VA also stated its intention to mandate overtime work for current claim processors. This overtime work will be compensated using emergency pandemic funding.
VA currently aims to reduce the number of backlogged claims to 100,000 by April 2024.
Board of Veterans’ Appeals Backlog
As of November 2021, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) has around 200,735 appeals pending adjudication. This includes 111,487 appeals filed under the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) system and 89,248 filed under the Legacy system.
Around 60,993 of the 111,487 appeals pending in AMA are in the hearing docket – more than double the number of appeals in the evidence and direct dockets. This may indicate that many veterans feel hearings are the only way to truly be heard by VA.
Hearings are more resource heavy than the other appeal dockets, as they take more time and require a larger number of staff. To decrease this backlog, the BVA plans to hire an additional 35 to 40 Veterans Law Judges, as well as additional supporting attorneys and staff.
Compensation and Pension Exam Backlog
In April 2020, VA suspended Compensation and Pension (C&P) exams and most in-person services due to the outbreak of COVID-19, resulting in a backlog of requests for exams. Although in-person exams resumed in October 2020, more than 200,000 requests for C&P exams have accumulated.
In March 2021, around 352,000 exams were pending, which is 212,000 more than the pre-pandemic average.
NPRC Records Backlog
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) – home to personnel-related records for both the military and civil services – also has a pileup of more than 500,000 requests for records since March 2020.
On October 18, 2021, the NPRC increased its staff to 45 percent of its pre-pandemic on-site capacity. This has allowed the NPRC to address a larger number of requests for documentation and respond more quickly to emergency requests.
Reasons for VA’s Current Backlog
There are several issues contributing to VA’s ongoing delays, including the introduction of the AMA system in early 2019 and the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The addition of three new presumptive conditions for Agent Orange and the recently announced particulate matter presumption have also contributed to this backlog.
VA also previously mentioned that the Blue Water Navy Act of 2019 – which allowed for more veterans to receive compensation benefits for Agent Orange-related conditions – led to an influx of more than 40,000 claims in late August 2021.
CCK Is Here to Help Veterans Seeking VA Benefits
If you are a veteran seeking VA disability benefits for your service-related condition, Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD may be able to help. The current mailing delays and backlog at VA makes the already challenging appeals process even more difficult to navigate, but CCK’s knowledgeable team can offer assistance and support.
Reach out to CCK today to schedule a complimentary case review.
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