Every Veteran hopes to receive VA disability benefits as quickly as possible after filing a benefits claim. Unfortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs has to deal with hundreds of thousands of claims each year, many of which are put on the back burner because of the number of claims submitted.
Read on if you believe your claim is stuck in the VA backlog. We’ll explore what the VA backlog is, why the VA has a backlog in cases and ways to prevent your claim from being stuck in the backlog for long.
Put simply, the VA backlog is the glut of disability benefits cases, claims, and appeals that the VA still has to work through. The backlog is comprised of all previously received VA benefits claims and appeals. New VA benefits claims and appeals are placed at the bottom of the backlog, meaning that Veterans with fresh disability claims must wait for a long time before previous claims are processed or evaluated by the VA.
As of December 2022, the VA benefits claims and appeals backlog hovers around 200,456 cases. This sounds like a lot, but it is substantially better than the backlog in March 2013, when it reached over 600,000 cases.
You can check out the VA’s website to see how the backlog has progressed.
Previously, the VA benefits claims and appeals backlog decreased from over 600,000 to under 100,000 cases by September 2015. This was the result of a monumental effort on the part of the VA and helped many disabled Veterans receive the rating decision and benefits they deserved.
However, the Veterans Claims backlog sharply increased starting around May 2020. This coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did many people become sick, but many members of the military went home and decided to start filing claims for disability benefits due to injuries they suffered throughout their military service.
The backlog then saw a slight decrease around September 2021 under the Biden administration, but it increased again to over 250,000 Veterans’ claims by December of the same year.
There are several reasons for the recent backlog in cases handled by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), a branch of the VA:
● As noted above, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a variety of unprecedented claims processing delays. In a nutshell, the VA lost a lot of its infrastructure because people had to quarantine, became sick, or could not work on cases. This resulted in a healthcare crisis and claims processors getting significantly more backed up.
● The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) also imposed heavy work restrictions on VA employees. This caused outstanding requests for Veteran service and medical records to grow dramatically over several months. The VA is unable to process claims without these records.
● The previous 2013 spike — when the backlog of claims reached over 600,000 cases — was caused by a list of new presumptive conditions caused or aggravated by Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. This allowed many Veterans to file new claims for disability benefits that they had previously been denied.
● In August 2022, Congress and the President passed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act (PACT). This caused another round of 23 illnesses and cancers to be tied to exposure to air pollution and burn pits from the Persian Gulf War and post-9/11 conflicts. As a result, many other Veterans were able to file claims for disability benefits, further straining the VA’s limited resources.
Despite these spikes, the VA has done its best to work through the claim backlog and help Veterans get the compensation they deserve.
As of December 2022, it takes approximately 110 days for the VA to decide on a new disability benefits claim. Therefore, you should expect your claim to take at least this long if you plan on filing for benefits soon.
However, your VA claim could take much longer to settle depending on the type of claim you file, how many disabilities or injuries you claim and their complexity, and how long it takes the VA to collect and review evidence.
Generally, any disability claim that includes secondary claims take longer to complete than “standard” claims. Secondary claims associate other injuries or disabilities with your primary, service-connected disability. For example, a veteran may not have had sleep apnea in service, but his or her sleep apnea may be related to their service-connected mental health. More complex claims usually take longer for the VA to evaluate, as more information has to be collected and considered.
Some claims are too complex to resolve at the regional office level. These claims often need to be appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Board decisions are very thorough, but often take years to process. The Board is still processing thousands of claims submitted prior to 2019.
If all this sounds difficult and demoralizing, don’t give up. There are ways you can help your claim get out of the backlog and get settled by the VA as quickly as possible.
Firstly, be sure to respond to any questions asked by the VA promptly. As your claim progresses, the VA may write you a letter or email asking for additional evidence or information about your disabilities or injuries.
The faster you respond to these inquiries, the faster the VA can move through the process and make an ultimate decision regarding your disability benefits. Do not let VA inquiries sit in your inbox for long.
Similarly, the VA may require you to complete various exams or tests, like a Compensation & Pension (C&P) Exam. Because these exams are legally required before the VA can provide disability benefits, you should complete them as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Meet with the VA’s medical practitioner or licensed medical examiner and get the exam done as soon as possible. The faster you do this, the faster the VA will have medical evidence of your disabling conditions and decide to award you benefits.
Before filing your claim with the VA, provide specific, detailed records if possible. The more specific you can be, the better.
The VA thrives when claims feature specific records that it can easily check and verify with outside organizations or military branches. Therefore, you should take extra time to gather the appropriate records before filing your claim, even if it takes another few days or weeks.
You could save time by gathering additional evidence beforehand instead of submitting your claim early and carelessly, then having to wait for the VA to get through your claim with the rest of the backlog.
Above all else, you can streamline your VA disability benefits decision by getting legal assistance from knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys. Attorneys like the ones at Berry Law can significantly improve your benefits claim process by:
● Helping you understand the disability benefits claim process from start to finish
● Helping you choose and fill out the right forms without any errors
● Helping you understand and collect the evidence you need for the VA to make an accurate, beneficial decision for your medical and financial needs
For example, your Veterans law attorneys can make sure that you download, fill out, and file the right forms for your disability benefits applications, plus attach any service records or other evidence necessary to help the VA.
With the help of experienced attorneys, you won’t make any errors, and you won’t have to feel frustrated when the VA returns your application, asking you to fill out more information.
It’s tough to tell, but the VA backlog should improve over the next few months. Remember, the VA previously had its case backlog at below 100,000. As the VA receives additional funding and resources and its staff gets a handle on current caseloads, the backlog should improve dramatically, and the VA should settle each new Veteran’s case much more rapidly.
That said, you should still take steps to make your benefits claim as informative and detailed as possible so you don’t run into any hiccups.
As you can see, it’s easier than ever for your benefits claim to get stuck in the VA backlog. But with our help, you’ll file an accurate, comprehensive, and persuasive claim for VA disability benefits. You may not even have to deal with the VA backlog whatsoever.
It all starts with a free consultation when you contact Berry Law today. Let our Veterans law attorneys help you get the disability compensation you deserve for your service to our country.
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