RUSS REPORT-The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) is now proposing that veterans seeking disability benefits be required to use a new “standardized” form submitted electronically.
Under the new proposal, a veteran would submit a claim but the claim would not be complete until all military and medical records were received. Those who have computers will be given “incentives” that those who cannot use a computer will not receive.
The proposed rule states, "VA believes that using a standard form is a minimal burden to place on claimants.” But the proposed rule does exactly the opposite by shifting the burden onto the veteran to collect and forward all records needed to complete a standardized claim that is not veteran friendly.
While no one would disagree that the DVA needs to “streamline” the benefits process, it should not be done at a veteran’s expense.
The current system makes it easy for a veteran to submit an informal application and if the claim is approved, the benefits then date back to the date the informal claim was initially made. If a veteran must wait for several months for a benefit check- that first check would be sizable. Under the new proposal, the months it could take to gather medical records and military records would be “lost” benefits for veterans.
The DVA told the Associated Press (AP) that the many ways requests for disability compensation are received actually hampers its ability to process claims and administer benefits and it contributes to their 430,000 backlog.
Bob Handy, Chair of Veterans United For Truth, agreed that the DVA could use a more streamlined way to process claims and appeals but he expressed grave concerns about “those without the capabilities to operate a computer and those with illnesses or injuries that would curtail their use of a computer.” He also added, “Veterans will certainly come out on the short end of the stick when they lose the initial lump sum benefits they are entitled to now.”
Bergmann & Moore, LLC, Bethesda, MD, have helped veterans maneuver the DVA system with both compensation claims before the DVA and against them.
Glenn Bergmann expressed sentiments to the proposed rule in his December 30, 2013 letter to the DVA, “The most likely unprecedented adverse impact of VA’s proposed rule change is an immediate and sharp reduction in claims and appeals within one year, potentially hundreds of thousands. The consequences could be devastating and even fatal for Veterans. Veterans without disability benefits and access to VA medical care are at increased risk of worsening physical and mental health symptoms, economic ruin, homelessness, suicide, and death.
A review of VA’s proposed regulation reveals how burdens for VA often use the word “may,” leaving VA considerable room to implement the proposed regulation as VA sees fit, without further notice and comment in the Federal Register. In sharp contrast, VA’s proposed regulation frequently uses the word “must,” when describing the burden for our Veterans. This seismic shift in burden is unfair, unjust, and unreasonable. It must not stand.”
Robert Rosebrock, Director, Old Veterans Guard and a veteran, said, “The DVA proposes to take the bureaucratic gear shift out of "park" and put it in "reverse' as things will go from a standstill to moving backward and only get worse. If our military men and women defended our nation the way the VA defends our disabled Veterans, we'd be overrun by the enemy in a day. It's time for new leadership at the very top level and at every VA facility across the nation.
Neither the Van Nuys Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) nor the American Legion's Los Angeles County Council responded to requests for comments.
Between 2012 and 2013, the unfinished claim inventory was reduced by only 4% over the last year. The actual number of unfinished claims still hovers around 1.4 million.
If the VA decides to proceed with this regulation, it would take effect 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.
Read the proposed rule here:
(Katharine Russ is an investigative reporter. She is a regular contributor to CityWatch and works with the United States Justice Foundation in defense of Veterans. Katharine Russ can be reached at: Katharine.firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vol 12 Issue 5
Pub: Jan 17, 2014