In the last couple of weeks, we've seen considerable scrutiny of the VA's disability claims backlog and a new semester's worth of bills exacerbating an already daunting G.I. Bill claims backlog.
In regards to the recent 60 Minutes piece on the VA claims backlog, AMVETS leaders were concerned about the picture it painted of the current VA. Though the piece called attention to a critical issue within the claims process, AMVETS leaders believed the coverage failed to demonstrate a critical cause of the backlog--incomplete paperwork.
Incomplete paperwork is one of the largest contributing factors to today's backlog, and one that can easily be alleviated by consulting with a knowledgeable VSO.
For the piece, CBS News failed to speak with any of the veterans' service organizations that routinely handle VA benefits claims (ie: AMVETS, DAV and VFW). Had 60 Minutes chosen to speak with these organizations, the picture may have been significantly different.
While problems persist within the VA claims process, significant improvements have been made over the last year. Plus, the VSOs who have handled these claims for decades have been able to demonstrate significant improvement in processing times and successful appeals.
Personally, when I first sought care within the VA system, I was advised by my counselor at the Providence VA Medical Center to file a claim for service-connected compensation and to consult with a VSO to fill out the paperwork. After all, VSOs such as AMVETS pride themselves in preparing only "ready-to-rate" claims, meaning all forms are thoroughly completed and all evidence is presented from day one.
For an example of these improvements, just look at AMVETS' results from 2009, where our service officers helped to process more than 65,000 claims and appeals resulting in more than $450 million in recovered benefits, with the average claim taking less than 60 days to process.
The other VSOs who handle disability claims also boast similar statistics. Sadly, one of the reasons AMVETS believes that the claims backlog has become so daunting is due to a lack of proper guidance for veterans wishing to file for disability compensation. Many times, veterans choose to go it alone, filling out their own paperwork and compiling their own evidence, leaving significant gaps in the information that VA claims processors need to properly adjudicate a claim.
Thankfully, VA has made a concerted effort in the last year to streamline the process, opening up further presumptions for service-connection to Agent Orange-related conditions and PTSD, reducing the requisite paperwork and evidentiary requirements for veterans.
While AMVETS is happy to see that mainstream media remain concerned about veterans' issues, we hope that 60 Minutes will follow up on the VA claims backlog and demonstrate the efforts the veterans' community has made to better serve its own.
In my next posting, I'll tackle the G.I. Bill. Check back shortly for another update.