As reported in U.S. News, two groups have filed suit in order to speed up the process of deciding veterans benefits claims. As is, the procedure takes an unacceptably long time – as much as 4-5 years from start to finish. In the meantime, the disabled vets are losing their homes and other assets, while waiting for their hard-earned benefits to be paid by the government. Here are excerpts from the story:
Coming on the heels of the discovery that veterans’ benefit claims forms may have been shredded in regional offices nationwide, two veterans’ organizations have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs. They’re attacking a related and, they say, similarly egregious problem: the time it takes for the VA to make a decision on a disability claim.
Clogged with more than 600,000 pending claims, the VA takes an average of more than six months to make a decision—70 percent more time than it took four years ago, the claimants allege. That means that disabled veterans can’t access their disability pay when they’re transitioning back into civilian society and need help the most, say critics.
If the claim is denied, an appeal takes even longer—an average of four years. Some stretch into decades. In comparison, private healthcare groups usually process claims in less than three months, including appeals.
In response, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veterans of Modern Warfare filed a preliminary injunction in a D.C. district court today against the VA. The two organizations, which together represent about 60,000 veterans, are asking for the VA to adhere to a time limit: 90 days to decide initial claims for disability benefits and 180 days to resolve appeals.
If those standards can’t be met, the suit asks that veterans receive interim benefits equivalent to what a veteran on a 30 percent disability rating would receive, or $356 per month for a single veteran without dependents. That’s not much, the groups say, but can be a “lifeline” for veterans attempting to adapt to civilian society.
Critics within government also have aired their concerns. In recent years, the Government Accountability Office has published at least four critical reports about the VA disabilities system, stating in 2007 that the benefits program was “in urgent need of attention and transformation” and “was poorly positioned to provide meaningful and timely support” for disabled veterans. Congressional statutes mandate that the VA resolve claims in a timely manner, but they don’t set deadlines.