The House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs latest hearing was held to determine if the current disability rating systems at the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are best serving America’s veterans. For most veterans the answer is easy - they are not.
Veterans have complained for years about the VA’s disability claims backlog and confusing rating system. In fact, most veterans wait a year or more to get a low-ball rating which requires additional paperwork and time to process, essentially postponing their benefits even longer. One veteran recently told me that he was surprised to find that after waiting a year for a determination, he would not get his benefits retroactively to his date of separation or even the original claim date.
Note: There are currently more than 886,000 claims in backlog with 66 percent of them taking more than 120 days to process.
Another issue veterans complain about is that the disparity in final determinations or disability ratings between VA regional offices. Some offices are known for granting high ratings, while others have a well-earned reputation for low ratings or denied claims.
So the question isn’t whether or not there’s a problem. The question is what is Congress really going to do about it?
Last year Congress passed legislation that would move to a paperless claim submission process and retrain claims specialists in hopes of reforming the system. However, as Rep. Jon Runyan (R-NJ), Chairman of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee put it, “The fact of the matter is veterans still don’t have a seamless transition. Veterans are getting stuck in the system between the bureaucracy of DoD and VA.”
According to Runyan, “the [VA disability claims] system has not been comprehensively revised since the conclusion of World War II.”
While paperless claims and retrained claim processors will help, these fixes will hardly make a difference when it comes to the issue of fairness and doing right by our disabled veterans.
According to a House press release the Committee will continue look at the recommendations of the 2007 Dole Shalala Commission and numerous other reports and studies from the past three decades to determine if the transition from DoD to VA is being conducted in a way that will ensure greater access for our veterans to the care and benefits with the least red tape and greatest efficiency.
Well, at least it’s a start...