New VA tool lets veterans track appeals timing

Jonathan Kaupanger
March 28, 2018 - 1:30 pm

Photo by Anthony Behar

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Veterans can now see exactly where they are in the appeals process, including how many are ahead of them. This is a brand new service from Veterans Affairs, and at first you may not realize how this is going to help you. It’s not, at least directly.

The new web tool is meant to increase transparency. “It’s important that our veterans have the opportunity to track their appeals process in a timely and efficient manner,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin.  “For the first time ever, veterans can see their place on the board of Veterans’ Appeals’ docket.”

Timing on the release of this new tool is everything. It went live on the Vets Gov  website, a week before the VA’s Inspector General released a review on VBA's appeals process. The only real change to the process is the number of pending appeals and the overall average days it took to resolve appeals. 

Although there is a small change, both numbers have still increased. The number of appeals in 2012 went up from 245,604 pending claims to 318,532, today. The days it took to resolve these grew as well. In 2012 it took, on average, 903.1 days for a resolution. Today, veterans will wait an average of 935.9 days.

This is where the new tool will benefit veterans. The IG discovered that Veterans Benefits Administration managers didn’t assign enough staff to process the appeals. In fact, staff had been reassigned to the compensation claims process. Because of this and possibly other reasons, VBA staff took an average of 111 to 755 days to complete various phases of the claim. And there were “significant periods of inactivity throughout all phases.”

Veterans using this tool can see exactly where their appeal is stuck and exactly how long it’s been hovering in place – VA’s “period of inactivity.”  For the IG report, this was measured as the time when VBA staff could have taken action to when they actually did take action. On average, a single period of inactivity in the process accounted for about 45 to 76 percent of the total processing time in each phase of the appeal.

Overall, the IG report found that VA and VBA needs to do better. Besides just being slow, these delays cause some veterans to end up paying more of their benefits to the attorneys or agents who helped them. These representatives are entitled to up to 20 percent of the past due benefits. Past due benefits are calculated from the effective date of the increase of benefits to the awarding date. So, the longer it takes VA to process the claim, the more money veterans lose.

VBA reported that between September and November 2015, VBA resolved about 23,200 appeals. But, about 1,600 of these records were closed because the veteran died while waiting for their appeal to be processed. The majority of these appeals, 1,100 approximately, had been in the system for more than a year before the veteran died.

According to VA, some of the veterans who previewed the new tool say that it gives them hope and helps them understand that the process may take longer than expected.

If you’d like to learn more about veterans’ appeals, click here