The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) has strongly denounced a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) decision that removes it and other veterans service organizations (VSOs) from the final review of a vet's disability claim.
In a late March news release, VFW National Commander William "Doc" Schmitz called it "despicable" and "inconceivable" that the VA intends to eliminate the VSO 48-hour review period for claims, effective April 30.
The release states that Paul Lawrence, the VA undersecretary of benefits, announced the change at a recent meeting with veterans groups.
VSOs are nonprofit organizations such as the VFW, American Legion and Disabled American Veterans that help veterans navigate the often confusing world of veteran's benefits and submit the sometimes difficult to understand multi-page applications for benefits related to disabilities incurred during their military service.
The VSOs counsel veterans and their dependents and help them get the benefits they earned as a result of their voluntary service to the nation. This assistance can range from simply advising a veteran whether they qualify for benefits to contacting numerous local, state and federal assistance agencies and filling out benefits application forms for elderly surviving spouses who have no other means of support after the veteran dies.
For decades, these service organizations worked in partnership with the VA to ensure its mission -- as stated by President Abraham Lincoln, "To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan" -- was carried out in the fairest and broadest means possible, according to the VFW.
In fact, the VSO review process is contained in the VA's claims processing manual, which guides employees in their rating decisions. The manual states, "VA policy is to work with representatives of claimants and beneficiaries in an equal partnership to effectively serve Veterans and their dependents and survivors. The policy requires VA employees to assist representatives."
To satisfy that requirement, the VA has long given VSOs 48 hours to review whether relevant laws and regulations were applied to a claim decision before VA releases the final claim decision to a veteran or dependent. This allowed VSO legal representatives to perform a "double-check" of the VA's decision prior to a formal ruling being issued.
In the release, Schmitz said, "To paraphrase former Administrator of the Veterans Administration, Gen. Omar Bradley, 'We are dealing with [veterans], not procedures; with their problems, not ours.' This philosophy should always guide VA in its transactions with veterans. Instead, VA's proposal to eliminate the 48-hour review puts process before people."
He added, "The VA has had a difficult history of earning and maintaining the trust of its veterans, service members and families. Making this change in the midst of a national pandemic is extremely troublesome and is just the latest example of distrust and lack of confidence in our VA to make our veterans its number one priority."
VA Press Secretary Christina Noel told Military.com that, “Once VA transitioned to an all-digital claims process, the 48-hour review period became obsolete.”
She went on to say that, “This is a marked improvement over the limited, 48-hour review period under the old system. Since all Veteran records, documents and other materials are now scanned or transmitted electronically, Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) and other accredited representatives have access to their clients’ records throughout the claims process in real time.”
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