Purple Heart recipients will take priority in the queue for Department of Veterans Affairs claims adjudication, starting April 1, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced Tuesday.
In a hearing before the House Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee, Wilkie said veterans who have earned the Purple Heart will be placed "at the front of the line when it comes to claims before the department."
According to Wilkie, the change is in "recognition of wounds taken in battle."
He didn't provide details on how the change will be implemented but said it is among the many improvements the department is making as part of the claims and appeals modernization effort.
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The VA launched a new process for handling compensation claims appeals Feb. 19, with a goal of reducing the wait time for a final decision from three to seven years to roughly four months.
The new process, created under the Appeals Modernization Act, gives veterans three choices for appealing their claim, including providing new evidence to the original reviewer; having a more senior adjudicator review the decision; and appealing to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
Wilkie described the change as part of a 21st-century transformation at the department.
The VA appeals backlog, which will be handled by the legacy system of appealing decisions to the board, stands at roughly 402,000 cases.
The new system will not only be used for disability compensation claims decisions, it will tackle decisions on education and insurance applications, vocational rehabilitation, caregiver benefits and claims with the National Cemetery Administration, according to the VA.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.