WASHINGTON, May 21, 2013 - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion today announced a new partnership to help in reducing the compensation claims backlog for veterans.
The effort -- called the Fully Developed Claims Community of Practice -- is a key part of VA's overall transformation plan to end the backlog in 2015 and process claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy, VA officials said.
VA can process fully developed claims in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim, officials noted.
"VA prides itself on our ongoing partnership with organizations that represent veterans throughout the claims process," said Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. "A fully developed claim is the most effective way to ensure a veteran's claim never reaches the backlog and is the basis for this new initiative between VA and what we expect will be an ever-increasing number of veteran service organizations and others who represent veterans at various points of the claims process."
The new initiative "takes a common-sense approach to working smarter to better serve injured and ill veterans," said Barry Jesinoski, Washington Headquarters executive director for Disabled American Veterans.
"DAV is pleased to be working with the VA to help improve the disability compensation system," Jesinoski added.
The American Legion has been working with VA since December on its fully developed claims process, said James E. Koutz, the American Legion's national commander.
"Teams of our experts have already gone to VA regional offices in Denver, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and other cities to help identify best practices for [fully developed claims], and to further train our own service officers," Koutz said.
Claims are considered to be "fully developed" when veterans submit all available supporting evidence, such as private treatment records and notice of federal treatment records, to VA at the time they first file a formal claim and certify they have no more evidence to submit. This is the information that VA needs to make a determination on a disability claim, VA officials said.
The fully developed claims program supports the sharing of best practices across veteran service organizations that help thousands of veterans each year with their compensation claims, to identify up front all evidence necessary to support a veteran's claim, officials explained. Veterans then certify that they have no additional evidence to submit, and VA can process the claim in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim, they added.
Veteran service organizations have long played an integral role in submitting veterans' claims -- often with representatives working within VA regional offices. VA has consulted with them throughout the development and implementation of its plan to end the backlog in 2015 to ensure best practices and their unique insights were incorporated, officials said.
The American Legion and DAV are the first to step forward to work with VA on the program, officials added, and that program has led to a much more efficient process.
This is the latest effort in support of the plan to reduce the backlog. Last month, VA announced an initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for veterans who have waited one year or longer.
On April 19, VA began prioritizing claims decisions for veterans who have been waiting the longest by providing provisional decisions that allow eligible veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits quickly. With a provisional decision, a veteran has a year to submit additional information to support a claim before the decision becomes final.
On May 15, VA officials announced that the department is mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices through the end of fiscal year 2013 to help eliminate the backlog, with continued emphasis on high-priority claims for homeless veterans and those claiming financial hardship, the terminally ill, former prisoners of war, Medal of Honor recipients, and veterans filing fully developed claims.
As of May 17, the paperless claims processing system known as the Veterans Benefits Management System, or VBMS, has been deployed to 46 out of 56 regional office locations, and about 18 percent of VA's current claim inventory is in an electronic format, officials said.
Claims for Wounded Warriors separating from the military for medical reasons will continue to be handled separately and on a priority basis with the Defense Department through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, officials said. On average, they noted, wounded warriors separating through IDES currently receive VA compensation benefits in two months following their separation from service.