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Allsup issues ranking of VA Regional Offices by pending appeals since 2008; provides 10 tips to veterans for getting through disability claims backlog
Belleville, Ill.-Nov. 5, 2013-Veterans with disabilities in Georgia, Florida, Texas, California and North Carolina are among those facing the longest lines of pending appeals for service-connected disabilities at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Offices, according to an analysis of VA data by Allsup, which provides veterans disability appeals services.
In the shadow of Veterans Day observances, this data highlights the ongoing challenge for veterans seeking compensation for impairments and injuries incurred through service to the country. The report by Allsup finds that certain VA offices have a much longer line of veterans waiting for their disability compensation appeals to be heard. Nationwide, more than 253,000 veterans are waiting for their disability compensation appeals to be adjudicated. Allsup found the VA Regional Offices (ROs) with the most service-connected disability claims pending at the appeals level are:
St. Petersburg, Fla. – 22,581
Houston – 16,725
Atlanta – 14,334
Waco, Texas – 14,268
Winston-Salem, N.C. – 11,327
Montgomery, Ala. – 11,014
Cleveland – 9,647
Roanoke, Va. – 8,169
Oakland, Calif. – 7,750
Columbia, S.C. – 7,378
By state, Texas has the most with 30,993 appeals pending at two ROs, followed by Florida, 22,581; California, 17,134 (at three ROs); Georgia, 14,334; and North Carolina, 11,327. (Find the complete Veterans Disability Compensation Appeals Backlog report at: www.allsup.com/media/files/2013-Veterans-Appeals-Ranking.pdf
Analysis by Allsup shows veterans disability compensation claims pending at the appeals level have increased by more than 78 percent since 2008. The increase of claims pending has grown an average of nearly 12.5 percent per year, with the largest jump-more than 21 percent-between 2009 and 2010.
Veterans appealing their compensation claims face multiple steps in the appeals process. The average wait was 270 days in fiscal year 2012 to receive another decision on their claim, reported by the VA as time between the filing of the Notice of Disagreement to the receipt of the Statement of the Case. At the next level-the Board of Veterans’ Appeals-the average wait from filing to disposition is 1,040 days for FY 2012. It can take some veterans up to five years to see their compensation claims resolved.
“It’s important that veterans understand that the appeals backlog continues to grow,” explained Brett Buchanan, an Army veteran and VA-accredited claims agent at the Allsup Veterans Disability Appeal ServiceSM. “This means that if their decision was denied or remanded, they could be in for a long wait if they appeal, and they may need to get help from a VA-accredited claims agent who has experience navigating the difficult VA disability process.”
Ten Tips for the Veterans Disability Claims Backlog
Earlier this year, the VA announced a plan to expedite final and provisional decisions to reduce the backlog of disability compensation claims. They reported some progress this summer. Currently, the VA’s backlog stands at more than 700,000 claims pending at the initial adjudicatory stage, prior to reaching the appeals level.
With the partial federal government shutdown in October, the VA reported it anticipated delays in these activities and the potential to lose ground on progress made for veterans. “Despite these obstacles, the VA continues to work aggressively to reduce the claims backlog. But it still means long waits for veterans who are appealing their decisions,” Buchanan said.
Allsup outlines the following steps to help veterans with disability compensation claims.
Determine eligibility. An honorable or medical-related discharge entitles a veteran to benefits. A veteran with a dishonorable discharge is not entitled to benefits. Other discharges such as Bad Conduct and Other than Honorable are decided on a case-by-case basis for eligibility.
Meet service-connected disability requirements. Eligibility requires that veterans (1) have documentation of an injury, disease or exposure while in service, (2) have a current impairment, and (3) be able to show their current disability is related to their service-related injury or exposure.
Obtain a doctor’s agreement on the current disability. Veterans making a claim need written medical confirmation of their current qualifying impairments when they apply. Not having a doctor’s agreement when filing, Buchanan said, could delay the process. Having been injured while in military service is not enough to grant the claim.
File as soon as possible. The VA will only compensate veterans from the date they file an initial claim, which can take up to a year to process. An appeal can last two to five years, depending on the complexity of the claim. There is no time to lose. Click here for more information on applying for both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and VA benefits.
Get help. Appealing a VA disability benefits claim is a complicated process. The more quickly applicants seek help with their VA disability appeal, the more support they can get with their claim. “A VA-accredited claims agent, such as those at Allsup, can help to ensure accuracy and correct errors, assist with documenting the claim and improve chances to receive a higher disability rating, which means higher compensation,” Buchanan explained.
Prepare an accurate medical record. Provide the VA with information on where the service-related disability was treated, even if it was a VA medical center. A comprehensive factual record is required for VA disability benefits.
Meet deadlines. Deadlines vary throughout the VA disability adjudication process. For example, a veteran has one year to disagree with a final Rating Decision. However, veterans only have 60 days to appeal the second decision, what’s known as a Statement of the Case.
Check the VA rating. If awarded benefits, veterans will receive a disability rating of 10 percent to 100 percent. “Veterans need to verify that the rating matches the true level of their disability,” Buchanan said. If the disability is more severe than the Rating Decision, veterans can receive help on their options from a VA-accredited agent, such as with Allsup.
Reduce spending. The VA disability process is lengthy, so it’s important to plan financially for the delay. Cut out unnecessary spending as quickly as possible and prepare for the long haul. For veterans unable to work because of a severe, long-term disability, SSDI benefits also may be an important option.
Don’t give up. The Board of Veterans Appeals returns almost half of the claims reviewed to the Regional Office to correct errors or obtain more evidence. The first answer from the VA may not be completely accurate. A VA-accredited claims agent can help with the complexities of the claim and prepare a thorough and accurate appeal so the VA can quickly and efficiently review the case for benefits.
See a complete listing of the Veterans Disability Compensation Appeals Backlog provided by Allsup at: www.allsup.com/media/files/2013-Veterans-Appeals-Ranking.pdf
For more information about filing VA disability appeals, call (888) 372-1190.