On May 9th, the Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veteran affairs. As Disability lawyers, we are particularly attuned to the needs of disabled American veterans for two simple reasons. One, Americans in general have a duty toward disabled veterans and two, many Denver disability lawyers are veterans of foreign wars, themselves. The lawsuit itself is simple: the societies want to change the claims submission procedure to benefit veterans, not the VA. Recently, many stories emerged about ridiculous wait times for care and difficulty for veterans to even be seen by physicians because of procedural issues. While that is not the main focus of this lawsuit, it would seem the treatment options for veterans are getting increasingly limited. This is a tragic issue, particularly as it relates to individuals who risked everything defending our country.
The original claims process was informal, which aided veterans in their quest for care by removing a lot of beaurocratic red tape as it relates to claim submission. Any written communication would originally do for the VA as notice that a veteran would be coming in to seek care. The effective date for the original claim, assuming it was approved, would be back dated to the date of the communication. For those of us who aren’t Denver disability attorneys, that means benefits would start from the moment the letter, email, or post-it note filing a claim was sent to the VA. March 24th of 2015 changed that process and veterans seem to unanimously want the original process back.
The current claim form is official and standardized, which is probably more convenient for the VA from an administrative standpoint. To give both sides a somewhat even hand, most claims forms for any type of injury are standardized and sometimes labyrinthine in terms of information required. Think of any doctor’s office intake form. Our world is being increasingly streamlined in an attempt to make paperwork easier, office work more efficient, so an extraordinarily large volume of information can be processed as quickly as possible to make room for the next person in line for benefits. However, the new claim submission process, despite this lofty goal, really just makes it easier to deny compensation to veterans. What’s worse, if the veteran is finally awarded benefits, the new submission form postpones the effective date, which means a significant loss in the amount of benefits awarded as compared with the previous submission method.
William L. Bradshaw is the VFW director of National Veterans Service and oversees over 1,000 service officers, accredited by the VA, who help veterans who need assistance filing their claims with the VA. He says his organization does not object to a standardized form, but to the approach that limits service to veterans by changing the submission form so significantly. Many veterans are used to being independent and often eschew assistance, believing they can figure out the claims process on their own. The VA was, after all, created to assist veterans and not the other way around. These changes make that approach extremely problematic, if not impossible. The submission process is complicated enough already without changing the form.
Bradshaw and the suing parties believe there can be a standardized form but the VA should accept informal requests, as well. This would make the process of claim submission easier for veterans, particularly those who are unaware of the service officer program or those who believe they can figure the process out on their own. It would also complicate the process for VA claim approval and administration, which would theoretically in turn reduce the amount of approved submissions that come through the VA because of the additional miles claims representatives have to go just to decide whether the information submitted is complete enough for a claim. Without doubt, this is an example of a complex process becoming more complicated. Unfortunately, those who suffer from the change have already suffered and fought valiantly just to be qualified. It would seem the fight for American Veterans does not end when they come home.