Edmonds Military Wire: Six in 10 VA claim denials are in error

Mike SchindlerBy Michael Schindler

Despite some process and administrative changes in the Federal Veterans Administration, veterans can still expect they’ll have to fight to see their claim approved, and that approval could take well over three months if everything goes right.

As we start 2013, many of the headlines are expressing the angst of what now seems to be the perpetual fiscal cliff and the rather dismal unemployment numbers. Not to side track too much, but Ted Daywalt, president of VetJobs.com, believes “unemployment will remain in the 7 percent to 9 percent range throughout 2013. This will be due to the stalled recovery and layoffs created by new federal regulations (DOL, EPA, etc.), new taxes, especially Obamacare and union actions.”

With our veterans experiencing some of the highest unemployment, the Department of Defense facing significant cuts in a matter of months, and more than a million service members cycling back into our communities over the next few years, one would think the VA would be preparing for a significant increase in claims – and certainly their mandate would be “efficiency and excellence.”

After all, haven’t those who volunteered to stand in the gap earned at least that when dealing with our government?

Unfortunately, the VA has a long way to go.

Rick Maze, staff writer for the Military Times, reports that six of 10 VA claims are in error. While Mr. Maze’s report is new, the problem isn’t – as a matter of record this “old problem” hasn’t improved much at all over the years:
– 31 percent of claims filed with the Veterans Affairs Department are likely to be denied — and 60 percent of those denials will be erroneous.
– 60 percent of claims will take longer than 125 days to be processed, more than 7 percent of claims will be misplaced, and 4 percent will be completely lost.
– A veteran calling VA’s benefits hotline has just a 49-percent chance of being connected to someone and receiving a correct answer.

The report, “The Veterans Disability System: Problems and Solutions,” was released Dec. 12, 2012 by the nonprofit National Center for Policy Analysis. Based on a review of the 870,000 benefits claims pending before VA in 2011 — a number that has climbed to about 900,000 pending claims today — the report says the pile of pending claims has grown despite the fact that VA is processing more claims than ever before and using a variety of new efforts to work faster and more accurately.

Government solutions to government problems typically are not known for being efficient and the report goes on to suggest that “faster claims processing might be possible by contracting out administrative services or transferring claims processing from the federal government to states.”

The nonpartisan National Center for Policy Analysis, which specializes in retirement and health care programs, is skeptical about VA’s stated goal of eliminating the claims backlog by the end of 2015. VA “is barely able to process current claims,” the report says, “and has exhibited little to no progress toward their stated goal of 125 days and 98% accuracy for processed claims by 2015.”

The report goes on to state, “The federal government, in general, does a poor job of administering disability benefits and services as evidenced by the state of Social Security Disability. But the Veterans Benefits Administration appears to be far worse.”

Bottom line: While Congress scrambles to get a budget passed, debate the debt ceiling and preserve their benefits, every day Americans are “fighting for milk” – to quote a great movie “Cinderella Man.” Our veterans are coming home only to face a tough economy, misperception among hiring managers and a fight not only for milk but also for their benefits. It is time for real change.

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