Are you a veteran who has been thinking about appealing either a disability denial or rating decision but are holding off because you’ve heard the typical wait time for decisions on appeals is five years? Well, there is some good news.
Congress recently passed theVeteran Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, an act created to reduce the wait times for veterans appealing disability claims. Currently, there are 400,000 former GIs waiting for final decisions on disability denials or their rating status. Congress wants the Veterans Administration (VA) to reduce that backlog and shorten the five-year process to 12 months.
“Unfortunately it will take the VA about 18 months to gear up and adapt the current system to the new requirements. If you are already in the backlog, the new act is probably not going to help you,” said Jeffrey Freedman, managing attorney, Jeffrey Freedman, PLLC. “But for anyone who is considering an appeal, there is definitely a brighter future.”
As the VA attempts to work through pending and backlogged claims more quickly, the number of appeals is expected to increase. About 12 percent of benefits decisions are appealed, according to the VA. With the new legislation veterans will have three options for appealing their claims: they can make an appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals; ask for a higher level VA adjudicator (than the one who decided their case) to review their claim and give a new decision; or submit new evidence and appeal to the adjudicator who first reviewed and decided their case. The VA will also be required to supply veterans with regular updates on the status of their claim. Claimants have complained they have gone years without hearing from the VA regarding their case.
The former VA Secretary, Bob McDonald, lobbied for reform and during his confirmation hearing, current Secretary, David Shulkin placed appeals reform as one of his top priorities. The VA now has nearly 340,000 pending claims for benefits, and 83,000 backlogged, meaning veterans have been waiting for decisions for longer than 125 days, according to the National Organization of Veterans Advocates.
“If you are thinking about appealing a rating decision or you were denied benefits, don’t wait for the VA to get their processes completely in place,” Freedman said. “Start now by giving us a call and we will do our best to get your appeal through as quickly as possible.”