The Department of Veterans Affairs is proposing a major change to the benefits process. Currently, a veteran can send any sort of written note to the VA and it starts a claim or appeal for VA benefits. The reason for this is because the VA system is supposed to be uniquely pro-claimant and make it extremely easy for the veteran to file and develop his or her claim. The effective date for many of the benefits is the day that VA receives this piece of paper.
The VA is now proposing that only requests made on official VA standardized forms will be accepted. The reason for this? The VA claims that this will aid in reducing the claim backlog that has about 400,000 veterans waiting more than 125 days for a decision. The VA wants us to believe that the VA workers spend so much time trying to read the letters and figure out what is being claimed, that it contributes to the backlog and wastes time.
One of the fears by veterans’ groups is that requiring a standardized form will take time and effort to fill out, leading to a later effective date (and therefore less money) for the veteran when the benefits are awarded. Another concern is that claims will be denied or kicked back to the veteran because he or she failed to check a certain box or fill out the form correctly. Furthermore, concern is had that the most vulnerable veterans—the homeless, those with a traumatic brain injury, or those with limited education—would have the most trouble obtaining and filling out the form correctly.
Critics and the VA alike recognize that the VA system is broken. It is backlogged and the in-house processes that VA utilizes are illogical and antiquated. However, requiring standardized forms will only make the system more difficult for veterans to navigate. Instead, effort should be made to have competent VA workers in the mailroom—ensuring that mail that is received is properly saved, statused in the computers, and passed along to the correct department. VA should have employees that actually process claims in order of receipt, instead of handling easier claims first. The VA should not lose files or records, and should properly follow its own protocols uniformly among its offices in each state. VA shouldn’t take 3 months to transfer files between offices when a veteran moves to a different state. These changes would actually speed up the benefits process and make it more productive. Unfortunately, it seems as though VA is hell bent on “solving” the backlog problem by making the whole process more difficult for the veterans.