Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Disability Benefit Claims Still Growing in Veterans

Despite the efforts exerted by President Barack Obama in adding resources in his administration to help veterans in getting disability benefits and mental health treatment, all his efforts apparently aren’t enough.

On Monday, President Obama talked about his assertions regarding the Veterans Affairs (VA) Department’s efforts and how people compare with the facts are quoted below:

President Obama: “We’ve hired thousands of claim processors. We’re investing in paperless systems. To their credit, the dedicated folks at the VA are now completing 1 million claims a year, but there's been a tidal wave of new claims.”

The Facts: Veterans can potentially become illegible for help with conditions or illnesses caused or made worse by their military service. However, although the government has long been struggling to keep up with the barrage of claims, backlogs have grown worse due to soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan returning home.

In May 2009, approximately 135 claims for disability benefits have been pending for more than 125 days. Such figure represents about a third of all pending claims. At present, that figure has more than quadrupled to 550,000 claims, which account for two-thirds of all pending claims.

In the last couple or years, although the department accomplished a million of claims each year, it received about 1.3 million new claims.

According to the department’s independent inspector general, the VA aggravated the situation by not assigning enough staff to process appeals and to follow its own processing guidelines in older claims.

In fact, when investigators reviewed the claims processed in three offices in California, they found out that division managers failed to conduct monthly reviews of those pending claims for more than a year –a clear violation of policy that caused unnecessary delays.

Apparently, despite the additional resources allotted to speed up the processing of claims, the VA office is still unable to cut its backlog. Therefore, it created disputes in previous congressional hearings.

President Obama: “We’ve also focused on the urgent needs of our veterans with PTSD. We've poured tremendous resources into this fight.”

The facts: Although the president correctly noted that the administration has increased its investment helping veterans deal with mental wounds of war, investigators found out that VA regularly did not follow its own guidelines in treating patients who are seeking mental health treatment.

Under the department’s policy, full evaluation of patients seeking mental health treatment should last for only until 14 days. However, based on the investigation conducted by the independent investigators, about half of the veterans seeking mental health care waited for about 50 days before receiving a full evaluation. 

In a recent article, a Los Angeles disability lawyer talked about the increasing number of veterans seeking permanent disability benefits. And now, issues regarding the processing of such claims are creating disputes among the lawmakers and the current administration. In fact, even President Obama’s Republican rival, Mitt Romney, is set to discuss the same issue in his next speech. 

Hopefully, after all the arguments and disputes regarding this issue have subsided, there would be a better future for all the veterans seeking disability benefit claims.