Friday, June 19, 2009

Number of VA claims poised to hit 1 million

My note: Promises..promises..they have been going to lower this for more than 10 years.

Doesn’t matter who is in charge.. the VA does what they want, in their own Lil world. Govt starts a war

And makes no plans for those that are going to come home..ignore, deny til they die

Number of VA claims poised to hit 1 million

By Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 18, 2009 7:34 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — This isn't the same as getting a free duffel bag for being the millionth person to go through the turnstiles: The Veterans Affairs Department appears poised to have hit the 1 million milestone on claims it still hasn't processed.

This unwelcome marker approaches as the agency scrambles to hire and train new claims processors, which can take two years. VA officials are working with the Pentagon under orders from President Barack Obama to create by 2012 a system that will allow the two agencies to electronically exchange records, a process now done manually on paper.

Meanwhile, veterans, some of whom were severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, continue to endure financial hardship while their claims are processed. They wait more than four months on average for a claim to be processed, and appealing a claim takes a year and a half on average.

Adding to the backlog are factors ranging from the complexity of processing mental health-related claims of Iraq veterans, to a change that made it easier for Vietnam veterans exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide to qualify for disability payments. The VA says it's receiving about 13 percent more claims today than it did a year ago.

The VA's Web site shows the department has more than 722,000 claims and more than 172,000 appeals it currently is processing, for a total of about 900,000. That is up from about 800,000 total claims in January, according to the site.

Since early 2007, the VA has hired 4,200 claims processors and with that has seen improvements in the number of claims it's processing. It's also working to modernize its system.

Last year, Congress passed legislation that sought to update the disability rating process. A hearing Thursday by a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee will look into whether the law's changes are being implemented and whether the VA will be able to handle a million claims.

Veterans advocates acknowledge there have been improvements in the claims process, but say it still is too cumbersome. They say some injured veterans from the recent wars are paying bills with credit cards, pending their first disability payments, at a time when it is challenging enough to recover from or adapt to their injuries.

"They keep talking about a seamless transition, but I can tell you I haven't seen it being very seamless," said John Roberts of Houston, who is national service director for the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project, which helps veterans such as David Odom, 29, of Haleyville, Ala.

Odom, a former Army staff sergeant who did three tours in Iraq, said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. With symptoms such as anxiety and anger, he finds it difficult to work. He said he's waited months to learn the outcome of an appeal that would give him higher compensation.

"It's added quite a bit of stress because I don't know what's going to happen. I want to know either way so I can figure out what my next step is," Odom said.

Former Marine Cpl. Patrick Murray, 25, of Arlington, Va., who was severely burned and had his right leg amputated after a roadside bomb explosion in 2006, considers himself fortunate. He got a job once he was discharged from the military, making for an easier wait as his case is processed.

"For someone that gets out of the military and doesn't have a job lined up, they have no income," said Murray, who works for a construction company. "They are sitting there making zero money, either racking up credit card bills or taking out loans, whatever it may be, all the while waiting."

Murray said the first claim he filed was lost. The second ended up at a VA office in Colorado, and the third was finally processed after a couple of months. It was mind-boggling, he said, to have spent 11 months in Walter Reed Army Medical Center and in outpatient care with stacks of medical files, only to find out he had to mail his records to the VA to prove he was injured.

"The biggest disappointment, I guess, is that it should be unnecessary," Murray said.

Ryan Gallucci, spokesman for the veterans group AMVETS, said his organization supports a law change that would make it less burdensome for a veteran to prove that an injury was from his time in war service. He said that may help with the claims process.

Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., who is chairing Thursday's hearing, said he's confident the claims process eventually will be improved.

"Veterans who are currently waiting, it can't come soon enough to them," Hall said.

Number of VA claims poised to hit 1 million


Meanwhile, veterans, some of whom were severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, continue to endure financial hardship while their claims are processed. They wait more than four months on average for a claim to be processed, and appealing a claim takes a year and a half on average.

This is optimum processing in most cases these dates are not a reality, many veterans are waiting nearly a year on having their claims adjudicated, and that is if they only have one or two medical issues, butmany compensation claims can involve as many as ten-15 medical issues, which complicate the processing of the claims, to figure out if the issues are "pyramiding" where the issues are really related to one organ like brain issues and mental health and TBI, how do you seperate PTSD and memeory issues caused by IED blasts? Even though most people would think there should be 2 seperate ratings, the VARO raters award the highest percentage allowed for the worst injury to the brain in most cases it would be the percentage awarded for PTSD. But this can take months of tests, and decisions by the rating team.

Then if you have to appeal the claims to the Board of Veteran Appeals (BVA) this can take several years just to get to the point of having a hearing scheduled, then it can be another 6 months before the Judge who hears the case can make a decision and get the award letter sent to the veteran, then the file has to be sent back to the Regional Office that is handling the claim and then it can be another 4-6 months before the raters award a percentage to the claim if the Judge grants the claim.

At this point the VARO can still award a percentage lower than the veteran feels is appropriate and then it has to go thru the entire procedure again, the veteran files a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and explains why they do not feel the percentage is appropriate, the RO will have the Decision Review Officer (DRO) look at it, and they again will deny the higher award in 99 out of 100 cases, and again the veteran has to appeal the award to the BVA, again waiting 2-3 years, and then wait another 6 months for the Judges decision and another 6 months for the VARO to implement the Judges decision so a veteran can spend 10 years fighting the Department of Veteran Affairs for what they feel is a fair award (the infamous hamster wheel, as veterans call it) many die during this procedure and if the veteran is victorious thru this procedure, the VA does not pay interest on the money they have deprived the veteran of for the past decade of harassment.

I have seen veterans lose their homes, cars, and their families due to the VA compensation claim problems, marriages fall apart under the stress of the veteran not being able to work, there is no safety net, while they go thru this protracted battle with the nation that sent them to war, or preperation for war, when the military person was either injured or was medically stricken to the point of being unemployable.

The famous "PROMISE" is you are either killed or injured while in service to your nation, we will care for you and your family. No one ever said it would be easy to collect on that Promise, if young people coming out of sghool knew the problems they would face if they become injured on active duty, the all volunteer military would end, and the nation would be forced to restart the dreaded draft. Who in their right mind would volunteer to serve their country, if they knew the end result could be a loss of your family, your home and your vehicles?

One million reasons not to join the military can be found right here in this story....and that is a sad sommentary and who is repsonsible, the VA or Congress or the President? you decide.....

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