The Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday released details on a new policy that will allow Purple Heart recipients to move to the front of the line regarding claims.
Starting April 1, veterans who have earned the Purple Heart and are submitting initial disability compensation claims will be added to the existing list of categories that receive priority processing within the Veterans Benefits Administration, according to the VA. The distinction does not apply to claims appeals.
Purple Heart recipients already are treated as a priority for medical care at VA facilities and are exempt from co-payments for care. VA officials said Friday they hope that, by adding combat-wounded veterans to the claims priority list, it will "further improve their overall experience with VA and shows the department's commitment to improving the claims process."
Several groups of veterans receive priority processing for initial claims. They include: Medal of Honor recipients; homeless or indigent veterans; the terminally ill; those older than 85; former prisoners of war or survivors of a POW; the very seriously injured who aren't already receiving VA disability benefits; and those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
In a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies on Wednesday, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced the change. He said the department is doing it in "recognition of wounds taken in battle."
Wilkie's father, Robert L. Wilkie Sr., was an Army artillery officer who was severely injured during the Vietnam War. He retired as a lieutenant colonel. Wilkie often speaks about the impact his dad's military service and injuries had on his life and his philosophy in leading the VA.