Our Alpha veterans advocates understand why claimants are frustrated with the VA disability claims system, especially those who filed on their own before coming to Alpha. The wait to get compensated for their sacrifices in service to their country, is too long.
Though recent Alpha posts covered the strides the VA is making to improve a severe backlog of disability claims, it is a daunting task, made more real by a recent Associated Press (AP) report about our newest veterans. It is a reality check.
At a glance:
- There are more new veterans than ever before filing disability claims. Nearly half of the 1.6 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking benefits.
- Of those new veterans filing for disability, 31 percent are from the Reserves and National Guard; 12 percent are women. Both groups served in greater numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan than in wars past.
- Nearly 56 percent of career military have filed claims.
- Claims are averaging eight to nine to as many as 14 disabilities each, requiring time-consuming evaluation to determine service-connected ratings and compensation.
- Battlefield technology has improved survival rates. More than 95 percent of injured veterans have lived, some with gruesome injuries that, in other wars, would have been fatal. They will need ongoing care.
- Health care and disability costs over the next decades are expected to reach $600 to $900 billion.
- A shaky economy and weak jobs market are factors bearing down on an increase in claims, including aging veterans from previous wars.
Strides in the Backlog are Raising Doubts
The VA’s challenge is monumental. Even so, while thousands of veterans wait for benefits, the VA remains confident that a new disability claims processing system, including the online Veterans Benefits Management System that will be fully operational in 2013, will significantly reduce the backlog. In the meantime, 4.4 million cases are waiting at 56 regional offices, and there are doubts about whether veterans who file on their own will be successful in getting benefits without expert guidance from veterans disability advocates.
Concerns are significant. One U.S. senator, Sherrod Brown from Ohio, a state that has 70 percent of its VA claims caught in the backlog, has even proposed a bill called the Veterans Services Outreach Act requiring the VA to tell veterans about advocates who “can help veterans assemble detailed, accurate, and complete claims that are more likely to be processed quickly –shrinking the current backlog.”
The Cost to Taxpayers
And then there’s the issue of paying out benefits, estimated to run in the billions of dollars for decades. “These new veterans are seeking a level of help the government did not anticipate, and for which there is no special fund set aside to pay,” the AP reported.
Will taxpayers be willing to foot the bill? For now, unprecedented numbers of disabled veterans need help. They are expecting the VA to deliver.The VA intends to do so.
Note: All representation coordinated by Alpha is provided by our employees, the Advocates, who are accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). No private organization that trains and employs accredited agents has been legally recognized by the VA for the purposes of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims. This work must be done by the Advocates themselves and not organizations.