Veterans Disability Benefits and Backlog in the COVID Era: Fast Facts You Need to Know

Currently, there over 210,000 disability claims in the Veteran Benefits Administration backlog (double the pre-COVID amount). This systematic setback has impacted the lives of Americans everywhere, particularly some of the most vulnerable: our Veterans.

With the additional strain on an already complex and time-consuming process, it can be difficult to determine how long the process takes for each Veteran respectively. Here are some fast facts you need to know if you’re a Veteran seeking or continuing to wait on benefits in these unprecedented times:

  1. The average pre-COVID timeline for a claim to process was 151.1 days.

Pandemic aside, the timeline and complexity of this process are significant and could vary based on a few conditions, such as how you submit the initial claim and the evidence of your injury or disability that may be requested for review. This is an individual process that varies case by case, and may include compensation and pension exams, which will be mentioned later.  If a claim decision was appealed, the timeline could easily extend out to multiple years, depending on which lane of appeal was chosen.

  1. The backlog of claims is projected to peak this summer.

According to the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), circumstances might get worse before they get better. This is partially due to new claims added to the inventory, such as Blue Water Navy claims, as well as Congress-mandated claims for three new Agent Orange conditions: hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and bladder cancer. Additionally, accessibility to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), where Veterans go to retrieve their records, has been limited due to unusually high volumes of record requests (up to 100,000 at one point, according to Thomas Murphy, VBA’s acting undersecretary for benefits). This has put the VBA in a position where they need to speed up processes to meet the unusually high demand for benefits, while simultaneously working to accommodate the changing inventory.  Let us not forget that during this same time, the VBA had to learn to manage a significant number of employees working remotely due to COVID as well as expand their IT infrastructure to handle the increased virtual traffic.

  1. The demand for compensation and pension exams is at a troubling high.

One of the few moving parts in a Veteran’s path to benefits is compensation and pension (C&P) exams. The crucial form of testing, which helps determine a Veteran’s health and eligibility for benefits, is under scrutiny by Congress after facing complications following the pause of in-person exams at the height of the pandemic last April. Since then, in-person C&P exams have resumed however many examinations still need to be scheduled and attended. VBA contractors conduct roughly 45,000 C&P tests each week, gradually working their way through this high demand. However, the long-term strategy to coordinate and carry out the C&P tests has yet to be determined.

  1. The numbers are expected to drop this summer.

If all goes as planned, the disability claims backlog will drop to 140,000 by the end of the fiscal year, then return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022. The Board of Veteran Appeals initiated new virtual hearings in response to COVID, which has greatly expedited the process for Veterans waiting for hearings.  With new shifts added to the NARA to process more records requests,  a carefully analyzed C&P exam process, and a more streamlined and virtual appeals process, US Veterans, some of whom have been holding out for benefits for years, will finally be on the road towards security, stability, and relief.

Our Veterans Disability Lawyers Are Here To Help

If you are a Veteran seeking disability benefits and have questions about the process, contact Grimes Teich Anderson by calling 800-533-6845 or submitting a free case evaluation form online. Our VA disability lawyers are ready to fight to help you receive the benefits to which you are rightfully entitled.

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