VA Delays Impacting Veterans: VA Claims, Appeals, Mail, and More
Robert Chisholm: Today we’re going to talk about the VA claims and appeals delays, and we’re going to explain what’s happening with VA. Joining me today is Christian McTarnaghan, an attorney at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick, and my name is Robert Chisholm, I’m one of the partners at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick.
Veterans continue to experience delays at nearly every stage of the VA claims and appeals process. This is frustrating. VA’s already confusing adjudication process was made more complicated by the introduction of the AMA system in 2019 and was drastically slowed down by the Coronavirus pandemic. The addition of three new presumptive conditions for Agent Orange, the reviews of Bluewater Navy claims, and the recently announced particulate matter presumptions have also contributed to this backlog.
In this video, we will explain why your claim may be delayed based on where you are in the process, and discuss what VA is doing to remedy these issues.
Christian McTarnaghan: So, Robert, you had mentioned a little bit about the backlog. Could you talk a little bit more specifically about what you mean by that?
Robert: Sure. Currently, there are about 260,000 claims that are backlogged as of October 2021. This includes claims that normally require development and the decision by a VA claims processor. Such claims include disability compensation, pension benefits, dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors. This backlog accounts for both original and supplemental claims, but does not include appeals. VA considers backlogged claims for benefits to be those pending for more than 125 days.
In an effort to reduce this backlog, VA hired 2,000 new claims processors in October 2021. Additionally, VA intends to mandate overtime work for its current processors to cut into this backlog. This work would be compensated using emergency pandemic funding, and VA aims to cut its backlog claims down from 260,000 to 100,000 by April 2024. However, delays and issues in other areas have also contributed to this backlog.
Christian: So, there’s a delay in processing these claims, but there’s also a delay in actually getting the veteran’s records. Isn’t that right Robert?
Robert: There have been a lot of records related challenges for VA.
Robert: So, for example, let’s talk about the National Personnel Records Center, which is home to all personal-related records for the military. Veterans need these service and medical records as part of their disability claims. The pileup of requests for records at the NPRC has grown to over 500,000 requests for records since March 2020.
On October 18th, 2021, NPRC, the National Personnel Records Center, increased its staff to 45 percent of its pre-pandemic on-site capacity. This has enabled the Center to respond more quickly to emergency requests and service a larger number of requests than it has over the past several months. However, it’s still operating below its pre-pandemic capacity.
Christian: So, there’s also been some delay in mailing. Isn’t that right Robert?
Robert: That’s true. And there are two aspects to the mail delay. The first one is VA’s own internal mailing, that is, getting a rating decision or a Board decision mailed out, has become backlogged. And the second part of this is the US Postal Service as a whole has slowed down. So many Veterans Advocates have noticed that VA outgoing mail is currently delayed by about one month. In addition, there are continued delays in mail processing at the Board level. And we don’t anticipate those delays being corrected until another 3 to 6 months.
Christian: So, most veterans have to attend a C&P exam, a Compensation and Pension exam, in order for VA to decide their claim. Could you tell us a little bit about the C&P exam backlog?
Robert: Sure. In April 2020, as a result of COVID-19, most in-person C&P exams were paused. This led to a backlog of requests for examinations. As of March 2021, there were about 352,000 pending exams. This means there are over 212,000 more exams pending than there was the norm in pre-pandemic times. Furthermore, the use of contracted examiners, that means not VA examiners but outside contracted examiners, over those employed directly by VA has been a source of delay largely due to the shutdowns caused by the pandemic.
VA relies on contractors for over 90% of the C&P exams. Many people have expressed concern about the capabilities and the qualifications of these vendors. Poorly trained or ill-equipped contractors could lead to more appeals from veterans. Many contractors are not located near claimants. Meaning some veterans must travel hundreds of miles for these contract examinations.
Christian: So, so far we’ve been talking about claims, mail exams. So, let’s move into appeals. Does the Board of Veterans’ Appeals have a backlog right now?
Robert: I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I can tell you, the Board has always had a backlog, and the backlog has gotten worse.
Robert: So, there are two parts to the backlog. There’s the Legacy appeals and then there’s the AMA appeals. As of October 17, 2021, there are a total of 198,330 appeals pending at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. 91,000 of these appeals are pending in the Legacy system, while 106,000 are pending in the new appeal system, the AMA. The current Legacy docket date is October 2019.
So, what is the Legacy docket date mean? That means the date on which the VA-9 appeal was filed. So, if you filed a VA-9 appeal before August 2019, your case of the Board is going to be decided soon-ish. If it was filed after August 2019, they haven’t hit your docket date yet.
Christian: So, in the AMA system, there’s a hearing lane that veterans can select. In my understanding is there’s kind of a backlog within a backlog because there’s hearing delays currently as well, right?
Robert: That’s correct. Of the appeals currently pending in the AMA, 59,000 of those are in the hearing lane. This is more than double the number of appeals in the evidence and direct dockets. Many veterans feel hearings are the only way to be truly heard by the VA. In an effort to decrease this backlog, the BVA is hiring an additional 35 to 45 veterans law judges, as well as additional support staff and attorneys. Here’s the thing, hearings are resource heavy. They take more time, and the BVA currently does not have the staff to manage the demand of hearings. There are scheduling challenges, technical challenges, and a lack of travel boards.
Christian: So, with all this in mind, how is CCK helping affected clients?
Robert: First, we are ensuring that VA has everything it needs to make a decision on your claim, reducing further delays. So, if your case needs a medical opinion, we’re going to get the medical opinion and submit it to the VA. If it needs a form, we’re going to help you fill out that form and submit that to the VA. If it needs a statement from you or a witness, a buddy statement, we’re going to submit that to the VA, so there’s no delay in getting all the evidence into the case.
Second, we’ll update you on your claim. We will contact you when your case is advanced in the adjudication process. However, please remember that while we would do our best to move things along, VA is nevertheless a slow bureaucracy and is hampered by the backlogs we’ve been discussing here today. Updates may not come as quickly as you would like, but please be patient and trust that we are working diligently on your case. We can help if your claim was adversely affected by these delays.
Christian: So, thank you very much for listening. Be sure to check out our YouTube channel, as we’re going to be able to continue to update everyone about VA delays and whether it’s getting better or worse in the coming months.
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