On March 24, 2015 the VA implemented new rules pertaining to how veterans file claims and appeals for VA benefits. All new claims or appeals must be processed on standardized forms. The VA claims it will streamline the process. But in reality, VA could not process claims expeditiously under the existing rules so they changed the rules.
Although the prospect of faster claims and appeals sounds good to most veterans whose claims are languishing in VA’s never-ending backlog, the reality is that the new rule changes will most likely cause many veterans to lose out on potential benefits.
I agree with the sentiments of Gerald Manar, the VFW’s national veterans’ service deputy director. He was quoted in Stars and Stripes, noting that the change was unnecessary and was purely for VA’s convenience. Indeed, the changes are lauded as pro-veteran, but will invariably transform the VA benefits process into a more bureaucratic, formulaic process to aid VA in meeting quotas.
The VA is scrapping the old system which was informal and required VA to liberally read a veteran’s claim to include all possible claims or theories raised by the evidence. A veteran could start a claim by submitting a handwritten letter, or even a scrap of paper. He could assert a claim for a generalized medical condition and then later refine the claim as the medical evidence developed.
The benefit of the old system was that the date the VA received the informal claim–that proverbial scrap of paper–would constitute the effective date for the claim. But now, the effective date for a claim begins only when VA receives the standardized form.
The old system worked for generations of veterans without computers and the ability to download forms from the internet. As such, the new changes will disproportionately affect older veterans who are not as computer savvy.
The VA officials continue to insist that the new system will reduce confusion. It will, indeed, reduce confusion for VA staff. There will be no need to look back in the file to discern whether an earlier, handwritten statement submitted by a veteran expressed an intent to file a claim.
But this illustrates the problem. The new system will penalize the unsophisticated claimant who clearly expresses a written intent to file a claim but just does not have access or knowledge of VA’s standardized forms. To a veteran at home without a computer or internet access, the new rules could cause him to lose out on the earliest possible effective date.
I also agree with what the DAV’s national service director said regarding veterans suffering from brain injuries. As a veterans disability lawyer, I am fully familiar with how devastating the traumatic brain injuries have been to the current generation of veterans. So, navigating difficult websites and trying to remember passwords and so forth could pose a challenge.
Right now, the new proposal would apparently require VA to respond to an informal claim by advising the veteran of the need to file the standardized forms. But it appears that VA will not send the veteran the forms.
As a result, the confusion over the forms and the time it takes for veterans to acquaint themselves with the new system will invariably cause many veterans to lose many months in potential back pay–since their effective dates will not begin until the date VA receives the standardized form.
So will this new system help reduce VA backlog? Probably, but it will do so by discouraging veterans from filing or causing their claims to be summarily rejected, which will cause many to give up.