Last week, VA’s controversial policy of requiring standardized forms for informal disability claims took effect. In the Denver area and around the United States, veterans – along with their representatives and families – are debating, in the recent words of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) deputy director Gerald Manar, whether “the changes are being implemented for the convenience of the VA and not for the benefit of the veterans.”
In a scathing February article, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review discussed whether the new claims-process regulations are “detrimental to older veterans and those with traumatic brain injuries.” The law office of Attorney Sean Kendall is also concerned.
Previously, veterans had one year from the date of filing an informal claim – via, for example, a letter – to file a completed claim in order to begin receiving benefits, which were backdated to the day the veteran filed his or her informal claim. Now, VA says it will notify veterans who have filed informal disability, pension, DIC, etc., claims that they must send in the claim either electronically (via the VA’s confusing website) or via standardized forms, which can be found here.
However, there have been no regulations announced for when, or how, VA must inform veterans that their claims have been received but will not be processed until submitted either online or with VA’s new standardized forms. What’s more, VA announced last month that it will not send the necessary forms to veterans who have incorrectly filed informal claims; instead, VA will simply contact the veteran and inform him or her where to download or pick up the necessary form.
Not having a timetable for when VA will inform veterans that their informal claims are incomplete is a huge problem, especially in light of recent internal report stating that the Oakland VA Regional Office ignored as many as 13,000 informal claims because they were stored in a stray filing cabinet for years.
VA’s pernicious new policy of not granting benefits back to the date of an informal claim, instead making the filing of a standardized form or electronic claim the effective date, is one thing; it seems even more worrisome that veterans, especially elderly veterans and veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or Traumatic Brain Injuries, now have no way of knowing whether their claims have been accepted for processing until their VA Regional Office eventually gets around to calling or writing them with news that not only has the informal claim not been accepted but also the veteran is responsible for obtaining the correct form.
For veterans suffering from life-threatening illnesses and veterans unable to work because of their service-connected disabilities, even a few months of VA delay because of these new rules regarding mandatory forms could literally be the difference between life and death, or at least the difference between financial stability and homelessness. VA currently has an embarrassing backlog of more than 250,000 claims that have been pending for more than 125 days; intentionally creating more frustrating delays for veterans in need of financial and medical assistance due to service-connected disabilities does not seem like the correct way to work toward eliminating VA’s sizeable backlog.
If you have any questions about your VA claim, or have already received a decision and need help with an appeal, give the law office of Attorney Sean Kendall a call at 877-629-1712.