Discover the latest news affecting YOUR military disability right here!

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. Most of the time, no post=no update.

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Thursday, November 11, 2021

New Model to Increase Access to Benefits for Conditions caused by Exposure

In honor of Veterans Day, the Biden Administration released a plan to improve the VA’s system of handling conditions caused by exposures during service.  

Currently, if a condition is not included on the VA’s Presumptive List, the burden of proof falls on the veteran. The veteran must show what they were exposed to, how much, and how often, as well as provide evidence that similar exposures are known to cause their medical conditions. 


With little to no access to this type of evidence, this burden is often too great, leaving many veterans unable to receive the benefits they require for their conditions. 


In response to the President’s request, the VA is hoping to ease this burden by testing a new presumptive decision model from November 15th, 2021 to April 1, 2022. 


During this period, the VA will use the new model to consider an association between military exposures and some respiratory conditions, including constrictive bronchiolitis and various respiratory cancers. The VA will use the most current medical research, military environmental research, and veterans’ claim and health data to identify any causal connections between the environments and these respiratory conditions.


After this pilot period, the VA will then finalize the model and start using it to identify other presumptive conditions prevalent in the veteran population.


In order to ensure that the VA has the most current veteran data, the VA is encouraging all veterans with conditions that they believe are due to exposure but are not yet on the Presumptive List to submit new claims, even if previous claims have been denied. The VA plans to use this data to guide their efforts in evaluating future presumptive conditions.


In addition to this new presumptive decision model, the Biden Administration is acknowledging the lack of training among professionals working with veterans who have been exposed. 


The White House Fact Sheet states, “Some claims adjudicators may not have up-to-date awareness of recent policies related to conditions newly presumed to be service-connected. ... [And] veterans often find that their providers and compensation and pension examiners are not well-trained to understand or treat veterans’ exposure concerns.”


To address this concerning lack of training for VA professionals, new training programs are launching to ensure “a basic level of competence” for all VA providers and adjudicators. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

What has Covid done to the VA’s Backlog?

The VA’s notorious claims backlog seems like a never-ending issue. And it might well be.  

The VA’s goal is to process all claims within 125 days, so claims become “backlogged” once they have been pending for more than 125 days.


Over the last decade, the VA has revamped their entire claims process and instituted numerous new policies, all with the goal of decreasing the backlog. 


Overall, these changes have worked. The backlog in 2013 was over 611,000 claims. Ridiculously high. By 2015, the VA had decreased the backlog to less than 100,000. That’s a massive reduction. Since that time, they have been able to successfully keep the backlog below 100,000... until March 2020.


During this time, while the backlog of claims decreased, the backlog of appeals did not. By 2016, the backlog for VA appeals had reached more than 400,000. 


To address this appeals backlog, the VA revamped the entire appeals system in February 2019. From February 2019 to February 2020, the new appeals system decreased the backlog from 425,000 to 174,000. 


All the new changes the VA made to both their claims and appeals processes were severely tried when the pandemic shut things down in March 2020. 


With the difficulties in getting necessary exams and records, as well as staffing and logistical issues, the claim backlog grew to over 200,000 and is expected to reach 260,000 by the end of October, while the appeals backlog grew to over 200,000 appeals.


These numbers are still far below the 600,000 and 400,000 that existed before the VA’s changes, but they still demonstrate a significant setback in the progress that had been made. 


The VA has now put a plan in place to get the claims backlog back to its pre-Covid numbers under 100,000 by April 2024. Starting this month, the VA will be hiring 2,000 new employees to work solely on claims processing. They will also be using funds from the American Rescue Plan to allow for overtime so that employees can process more claims in a timely manner. 


While this progress will take a few years and an end to the backlog is still not in sight, hopefully these changes will help the VA recover from the setbacks imposed by the pandemic so that veterans can receive their essential benefits ASAP.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Extended Deadline for Gulf War Presumptive List

On September 14th, the VA officially extended the deadline for conditions on the Gulf War Presumptive List. 

The VA has numerous Presumptive Lists that consist of conditions that are automatically considered service-connected if a veteran served in certain circumstances. These circumstances range from serving in a location during a specific time to being exposed to things like Agent Orange or radiation.


The Gulf War Presumptive List allows veterans who served in Southwest Asia and Afghanistan during the Gulf War to receive benefits for certain conditions that develop after their military service.


The list includes conditions like Gulf War Syndrome and multi-symptom illnesses, which must qualify for a 10% rating before the deadline in order to be considered service-connected. 


Not all of the Presumptive Lists have deadlines, but the Gulf War Presumptive List does. Previously, the deadline was December 31, 2021, but in the new regulation published yesterday, the VA pushed back the deadline by 5 years to December 31, 2026. 


This is not the first time the VA’s extended this deadline. Since the Gulf War is ongoing, keeping the previous deadline would deny future Gulf War veterans their much-deserved benefits. In the regulation, the VA also acknowledges that the research regarding these conditions “remains inconclusive regarding the time of onset of undiagnosed and other illnesses related to Persian Gulf War service.” 


By extending the deadline, the VA is ensuring that Gulf War vets who develop these conditions will be able to receive their benefits, and the VA is allowing more time for further research regarding Gulf War conditions.