Archive for August, 2011

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WHY IS VA SO SLOW? What Can You Do About It?

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Why is VA so slow to process claims?

VA is a huge government bureaucracy. All bureaucracies, whether government or corporate, are slow, inefficient, subject to channeled thinking. They are inherently cautious and have many interconnected parts, and actions require multiple reviews and sign-offs. Political influences on, and scrutiny of, government bureaucracies increase the natural cautiousness.

Understaffed, undertrained, overworked, overwhelmed. VA handles hundreds of thousands of claims. Many have merit but not all do. Some people, seeing a federal fund of money, regard VA benefits as a possible source of easy money. With responsibility for the use of taxpayer money, VA must sort through all the claims to separate the bogus from the legitimate. The agency is challenged to find, train, and retain enough qualified employees to deal with this burden of work.

Conflicting incentives. Sometimes the very measures taken by VA to speed processing of claims result in losing ground. For example, when VA creates incentives for clearance of claims faster, the easiest way to deal with a claim quickly is to deny it, often without doing all the proper development. This results in appeals and redoing the claims, sometimes over and over.

Creeping bias. Most VA employees, however effective or ineffective, are sincerely trying to do their jobs properly. Dealing with such a vast number of claims, however, sometimes creates a sense of skepticism on the part of reviewers. This suspicion that most claims are without merit can result in denial because of a tendency to favor evidence adverse to the claim or insist upon corroboration of evidence that should not require it.

What can be done about it?

The short answer is that there is no cure-all; to a certain degree the system is what Congress has established, limited by realities of claim volumes and the labor market. But there are some things that can help avoid undue delay.

Support claims. If you are preparing to file a claim, collect or think about the necessary evidence to prove it. Claims for service connection require showing a current disability that is related to an event of injury or disease manifestation in service. Unless the disability is obvious, such as an amputation or scar, you will need medical records to demonstrate it. VA will request necessary records if you identify sources, but as the patient you can often save time by requesting them yourself. If your injury or illness in service is reflected in military records, that will suffice; if not, you can describe it in a statement but VA will usually want corroboration, so you should solicit statements from witnesses – fellow soldiers, family members, co-workers who are familiar with the events. Finally, unless you have documented symptoms that have continued since service, you will need to establish an evidentiary connection between the in-service event and your disability. This usually requires a medical opinion, which VA may or may not obtain on its own; again, time can be saved if you get an opinion yourself.

Simplify. Having multiple claims also causes delay, especially if they are not proceeding simultaneously. VA cannot rub its stomach and pat its head at the same time. Claims at different stages require attention by different personnel in VA, and the claims file can only be in one place at a time.

Heed notices. If your claim is denied, pay close attention to the reasons given in the Rating Decision or Statement of the Case and consider how to address them. You may need to obtain additional evidence on the elements discussed above.

Be insistent but polite. Bureaucrats are human beings (strange but true!). Like any human, a government employee responds better to courtesy and respect than to threats or anger. Dealing with VA is often infuriating, but losing your cool accomplishes nothing because, realistically, VA employees have little pressure on them to handle any particular claim promptly. But it is important to keep steady pressure on VA. Call or write VA about pending action at regular but reasonable intervals, about every 30-60 days. Writing to your congressional representative cannot force any particular decision by VA but it can sometimes help focus some attention on a file if it has been languishing without action for a long time. Do not resubmit evidence, as this simply bulks up the claims file and causes delay.

Last resort. There is one mechanism to compel attention and possibly action by VA if delay becomes extraordinary. It is possible to petition the Veterans Court for an extraordinary writ of mandamus, an order directing the agency to do something. It is called extraordinary because the court regards it as an extreme measure, to be done only in the most egregious cases. The court very seldom actually issues a writ; sometimes just filing the petition, however, prompts the agency to get something moving again.

We would be happy to answer questions about any of this information.

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