Intro

Welcome to our Big News section for all the latest news concerning Military Disability.

We'll do our best to keep you up to date on everything that could affect your disability. Since the majority of our news will cover legal issues that can be dragged out for a long time, if you'd like an update on an issue, let us know, and we'll do what we can.

Please feel free to comment and submit questions. We want to give you the information you need, so help us by letting us know what you want to know.

This page is strictly for the latest and upcoming news. If you are looking for specific information about the disability system or your disability, see our Military Disability Blog: Advice From the Big Guy or our website, www.MilitaryDisabilityMadeEasy.com, for all the answers you'll need.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Proposed Task Force To Study the VA Backlog

Continuing with last week’s news topic, there are two bills that are currently in Congress that are meant to help decrease the VA’s backlog of disability claims. I discussed the first, the Veterans Backlog Reduction Act, last week. Today, I’ll discuss the second act, “An Act to improve the processing of disability claims by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.” And, yes, that is the name of the act. I guess they couldn’t come up with something a little catchier or at least a little shorter, so I’ll do it for them. Let’s call it “The Superheroes Fighting the Backlog Act.” Much better.

While the Veterans Backlog Reduction Act is designed to help those whose claims are taking too long to process, the Superheroes Fighting the Backlog Act will create a team (they call it a “task force”) who will research the backlog and the VA’s system, and then come up with a game plan on how to fix it. The goal is to accurately and thoroughly identify the VA’s problems, the cause of the problems, and the best way to fix the problems.

There are two big processes that the team will be focusing on: the VA Disability Process and the VA Appeals process.

The VA Disability Process is the process that all veterans must go through when first applying for VA Disability. The VA Appeals process comes after the VA Disability Process. If a veteran does not agree with his VA Disability Rating, he can appeal to have his case re-examined.

According to the Act, the team will research the following issues:
  1. The exact cause of the backlog: Is it the number of employees? The employees’ workloads? The computer systems? The claim process? The amount of funds available?
  2. The current backlog: What is the best and most efficient way to deal with the current pending claims?
  3.  The claims process: How could the claims process be simplified? How can it be more efficient and easy to understand? How can it be adjusted to prevent backlogs in the future? Can the laws regulating the claims process be improved?
  4.  The appeals process: How could the appeals process be simplified? How can the process be improved to deal with an increase in the number of appeals? Are there enough employees and resources to deal with the workload? Should there continue to be one centralized Board that deals with the appeals, or should there be many regional Boards? Can the laws regulating the appeals process be improved? How can the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims be improved? 

As they research these issues, the team has a few things they must take into consideration.
  1. The interests of the veterans: Is the system accurate and fair to every veteran? Is the system simple and easy to understand? (The answer to this is clearly, NO. But hopefully by considering this, they’ll be able to suggest ways to make it so.)
  2. The Constitution: Is the system in compliance with the values of the Constitution?
  3.  The interest of the public: Does the system properly utilize its given resources?

Once The Superheroes Fighting the Backlog Act is passed by Congress, the team will have 6 months to complete all their research and develop a thorough game plan on how to fix the VA’s system. Over these 6 months, the team will have to submit regular reports to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Chairman of the Board, and the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, keeping them updated on their findings and progress. These individuals will then have to submit reports to Congress.

At the end of the 6 months, the team will have to submit a final report. In this report, they are to include “a feasible, timely, and cost-effective plan” to remedy the VA’s disability process.   

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Chairman of the Board, and the Chief Judge must then decide what parts of the plan they will use. They aren’t required to use any of it, but for anything they do not use, they must submit a report to Congress explaining why. Giving these three people the final say on things could be a good thing and a bad thing. They are ultimately in the position to implement all the proposed changes, so their acceptance of all the changes is vital to making them happen. Additionally, it is possible for the team to propose changes that may not really do much good. This final vote may prevent some negative things occurring. At the same time, they could choose not to do some things that really would be a huge benefit. Hopefully reporting to Congress will be a big enough motivator to put as much as possible into action.  Alas, a system of checks and balances.


That’s the meat of The Superheroes Fighting the Backlog Act. Like in most Acts, there are additional things that the Act will do to the VA disability system beyond the formation of this review team and their actions. I’ll discuss those things next week.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Veterans Backlog Reduction Act

Over the past year, there has been a significant amount of media coverage regarding the VA’s excessive backlog of disability cases. They are months behind on processing these claims, and it is taking far too long for our disabled veterans, many of whom cannot work to support themselves or their families, to receive the benefits they need to basically survive.

Fortunately, there are two bills currently in Congress that are designed to help address this ubiquitous issue. Unfortunately, neither of these bills has been passed yet.

The first bill, the “Veterans Backlog Reduction Act” (H.R. 1739), I’ll cover today, and the second bill, “An Act to improve the processing of disability claims by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes” (could they have picked a longer name?), I’ll address next week.

The Veterans Backlog Reduction Act has been sitting in the House of Representatives since April 2013. Once this bill finally gets passed, the following will occur.

The VA will give what they call “provisional benefits” to anyone who’s claim is not processed within 125 days. This means that if your claim for benefits is not processed within 125 days of the date you submitted it, the VA will pay you a set amount of money each month until they finish processing your claim, starting on the 125th day. The exact amount of this payment is determined by one of two things.  It will either be (1) the average amount they pay to other people who have your same condition, or (2) the amount that is given to someone with a 40% rating, whichever is LESS. So if the amount given to someone with a 40% rating is less than the average amount given to people with your condition (or vice-versa), then that is what you will be given, every month, until they finish processing your claim.

Right now, as long as your VA disability claim is submitted within the first 12 months after you leave the military, the VA gives back payments for the time between your date of separation and the VA’s rating decision. Under the Veterans Backlog Reduction Act, this will still occur, but the amount you received in “provisional benefits” will be subtracted from the amount you would have received for this period.

For example, let’s say that Billy has a condition that entitles him to $200/month of provisional benefits since his claim was not processed within 125 days. He receives this amount for 6 months before his claim is finally processed, so in total he receives $1,200 of provisional benefits. Once his claim is processed, he is entitled to $300/month. He had been separated from the military for 10 months (6 months plus the 125 days) before his claim was finalized. He should receive $3,000 in back pay for those 10 months ($300/month for 10 months = $3,000), but since he was already given $1,200, he only receives $1,800 ($3,000 - $1,200 = $1,800). Got it?

On the flip side: Good news! If your Rating Decision gives you less than the amount the VA paid you over those months, you won’t receive any back pay, but you won’t have to pay them back the extra money they gave you. You get to keep it. Awesome.

That’s it for the Veterans Backlog Reduction Act. Again, it has not been passed yet, but is still sitting in the House of Representatives. Let’s hope they get on this soon so you can get this much needed financial help while you wait for them to fix their backlog with the other bill that’s sitting in Congress, which I’ll discuss next week.