A local veterans organization is skeptical about a recent decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to target claims older than a year for completion by 2015.
Veterans whose claims fall in that time frame will be given a provisional rating and will have one year after receiving the rating to provide additional information before the VA issues a final decision.
"Too many veterans wait too long for a decision, and this has never been acceptable," said VA secretary Eric Shinseki in a release announcing the backlog initiative. "That is why we are implementing an aggressive plan to eliminate the backlog in 2015. This initiative is the right thing to do now for veterans who have waited the longest."
One veteran service officer sees a flaw in the VA plan.
"First off, all of their system is not intact yet," said Jim Foyil, the veteran service officer for the Military Order of the Purple Heart. "They aren’t fully funded and if it is fully funded people won’t be trained in time to start it on time. You have to go through development, coaching, the rating process, etc. I don’t think they can do it.
"It’s a valiant effort, but they wont have it done by 2015 because the claims that are still pending are still going to take anywhere from 12, 18 or 24 months unless they start changing the rating schedule tomorrow."
U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, D-N.C., says she welcomes the news.
"I welcome any action by the VA to reduce the unacceptable backlog of claims that have prevented our brave men and women from accessing the benefits they’ve earned," Hagan said in a press release on the announcement. "While this initiative marks a step in the right direction for the VA, more must be done to reduce the wait times North Carolina veterans face."
More than 7,000 veterans have been waiting at least a year for the Winston-Salem Regional Office to rule on their disability claims — with more than 700 waiting more than two years — according to information from Hagan’s office. The average claim takes 341 days to process through the office in Winston-Salem, the second longest wait time in the VA’s southeastern region, according to Hagan’s office.
"I will continue to monitor the VA’s efforts to reduce the backlog at the Winston-Salem Regional Office and do everything I can to ensure this problem is properly addressed," Hagan said.
The VA is stuck in a vicious cycle where it can’t get an efficient group of adjudicating rating officers, Foyil said.
"(The VA) can’t catch up," he said. "Each one of those claims our modern veteran is filing, these guys have 13 or 14 claims on one file. By the time a QTC examination is done, it adds another 30, 45 or 60 days. It’s a very complex thing and people are not being educated."
Veteran service organizations have begun increasing staff members due to the military drawdown and a heavy influx of claims.
"The service organizations are trying to do everything they can, but the VA is about two years behind everything, which slows everything down," Foyil said. "The VA has a tough and tedious job to get all these claims done properly, but we as veterans service organizations have faith things will eventually work out."