Paralyzed Veterans of America is cautiously optimistic about a new Veterans Administration plan to expedite processing for disability claims that have idled in the system for two years or more.
The new provisional rating pilot program would enable claims that have been pending for more than two years to be adjudicated within 60 days and rated based on the existing evidence of record.
Sherman Gillums, Jr., associate executive director of veterans benefits at Paralyzed Veterans of America, said that many of these claims went idle in large part because VA was waiting on additional documentation from other federal agencies. For many veterans, however, enough evidence already exists for VA to render a decision, even without those missing records, Gillums said.
“Should the VA later receive the additional evidence either from the veteran or the agency in possession of the records, the veteran’s claim will be reconsidered,” Gillums said.
But while Paralyzed Veterans supports any effort made by the VA to reduce the claims backlog, the pilot program could have some potential downsides. For example, many of these provisional ratings will result in denied claims due to lack of evidence, which is often why the claim sat idle in the first place, Gillums said.
Another potential downside is that provisional ratings will not come with appellate due process rights, meaning it will be difficult for veterans and their representatives to counter a provisional ratings decision.
“Veterans will be given the chance to appeal one year after the provisional decision is final, but this simply defers justice rather than remedies the issue,” Gillums said. “If and when these cases reach the higher courts, we’ll know at that time whether this ultimately proved to be a good idea.”
Paralyzed Veterans also does not want to see resources at the VA diverted from other claims adjudication functions to execute the pilot program, which would ultimately shift the backlog rather than solve it.
“Moving chairs around on the deck of the Titanic couldn’t save the ship, and neither will attacking one segment of the backlog while neglecting others fix the VA claims process,” Gillums said.
Veterans who receive provisional ratings should immediately contact their local Paralyzed Veterans national service officer to fully understand their rights and obligations during the one-year provisional period, Gillums said.
“This will be key to ensuring each of these claims has the best chance of being granted and the maximum entitlement awarded,” he said.
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Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.