VSOs Working Vet Claims Through Shutdown

Stacks of VA claims.

The country's largest veterans' service organizations are not only continuing to help veterans with disability claims paperwork during the federal government shutdown, they're doing so at their usual desks near Department of Veterans Affairs' offices across the country.

But should the shutdown that began at midnight on Monday result in their being barred from those offices, they'll set up shop outside, says Jim Marszalek, national services director for Disabled American Veterans.

"We're working on plans right now that if the veterans are not allowed to access the buildings to initiate their claims, we are going to set up our mobile services offices," he said. The group will set up tents if necessary.

"We're going to make sure the veterans are taken care of regardless of the government shutdown."

Representatives from DAV, The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars are collocated with VA offices in most federal buildings across the country. The reps are there to answer veterans' questions and help them put together their claims for disability compensation and even appeals to denied claims.

Peter Gaytan, executive director of the Legion, said the VA has assured him three times that the VSO offices would not be closed because of the shutdown.

"We were told by VA leadership that our staff will be able to access the federal offices in the buildings," Gaytan said.

Joe Davis, national spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, said that if the VSO liaisons are cut off from the offices they'll all find ways to keep working.

"The expert assistance provided to veterans by VFW service officers will continue, regardless of a potential VA Regional Office shutdown," he said.

The VSOs have long been critical to VA operations, but especially recently as they help veterans issue so-called "fully developed claims" that are designed to more quickly move through the bureaucracy.

The full-develop claims are a product of the controversial disability claims backlog that has seen some vets wait a year or two for action on a claim application. The more complete an application, the faster the VA can process it and make a decision on compensation.

Even Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American, a longtime critic of the VA's handling of the backlog, has recently acknowledged that the agency has been making progress in bringing down the numbers. But IAVA and the veterans service organizations all fear now that the shutdown will see that progress rolled back.

"The VA was slowly but surely getting the backlog down," Marszalek said. "This is only going to worsen it. It puts a damper on the goal they have …. of completed claims being acted on within 125 days and with an accuracy rate of 98 percent."

At last measure, he said, they had the number at 178 days.

"We'll see what it is when the shutdown is over, we'll see what it jumps up to," he said.

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Budget VA Claims and Appeals