For veterans waiting for disability compensation, a huge backlog could mean waiting into 2022 and perhaps beyond. This backlog includes pension claims and disability compensation that requires a VA rating to process and approve.
These claims could be initial or additional claims for veterans and survivors related to service-connected injuries and disabilities. There are a number of reasons for a delay in processing veterans’ disability claims backlog and the number of vets who choose hearings is the biggest factor.
Hearings take a long time to schedule and get through since the VA can only process between 500 and 1,000 hearings every week.
So, where is the backlog right now? Keep reading for a comprehensive update on the VA benefits backlog.
The Status of the VA Backlog
Whether you served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines, the same claims process applies. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are 623,060 pending claims as of 8/27/2022 and 154,014 rating-related claims backlogged as of 8/27/2022. As of the end of 2021, there were 155,769 backlogged claims in the legacy appeals system.
According to a recent press release, the VA is taking a number of steps to reduce the backlog, including the following:
- Hire 2,000 claims processors to expedite claims processing.
- Use funding from the American Rescue Plan to authorize overtime so that more claims can be processed.
- Deploy 2022 fiscal year budget resources to process additional Agent Orange and Compensation and Pension claims.
According to the press release, these efforts have already resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of pending claims for disability benefits.
How Long Does It Take to Process a VA Claim?
Veterans of the Gulf War are among those with pending claims for health care issues from service-related injuries or illnesses.
Over two years ago, in October 2019, the VA put out a press release in which it resolved to work through the backlog by the end of 2022. At the time, that may have seemed like a far-off goal, but current projections indicate that the organization likely won’t resolve all claims until 2023 — or later.
Veterans with legacy claims have several options if they wish to appeal the initial decision. They can file a VA Disability appeal, which takes at least 97 days to process. Veterans can also file a Notice of Disagreement and wait approximately 480 days to receive a decision. Another option is to file a VA Form 9 to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA), a process that has veterans waiting 644 days, or nearly two years to receive a final decision.
To help prevent further backlogs, the Veterans Administration encourages veterans to also pursue claims with the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA). Unlike the legacy system, which follows a linear path, the AMA has three appeal lanes to help vets expedite their claims processing: supplemental claim, high-level review, and BVA appeal.
AMA wait times vary depending on the type of claim or appeals, as follows:
- Supplemental claimstake up to 60 days.
- Higher-level reviewdecisions typically occur within 40 days.
- Appealing to the board can take up to 3 to 5 years.
This timeline greatly impacts veterans waiting for VA benefits to gain access to specialists and other providers. The Veterans Benefits Administration gives financial assistance to vets. The VBA also provides assistance for the dependants of vets.
Unfortunately, veterans who appeal to the board have the longest wait time thanks to the backlog of claims, so it’s important to try to resolve the claim earlier in the process to avoid a loss or delay in benefits. Veterans with bladder cancer, Parkinsonism, and other illnesses related to their active duty often are included in the claims backlog.
Due to a mixture of COVID pandemic levels factors and the time it takes to present new evidence, the timelines for both legacy and AMA claims and appeals can become extended. Supposedly, the AMA moves claims and appeals along faster than the legacy appeals system. We go into a deeper discussion of this in the next section.
Legacy Versus AMA Appeals Process
If you filed a VA disability claim before February 19, 2019, your claim is probably moving through the legacy appeals process. Claims filed after February 19, 2019, go through the AMA appeals process.
If you feel that you could do better refiling your claim under the AMA process, speak with your VA attorney to discuss the wisdom of doing so.
VA Legacy Appeals Process
Here’s an overview of how the legacy appeal process works.
The AMA appeals process was designed to expedite claims filed after February 19, 2019. It was introduced in the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. Due to a growing backlog in legacy appeals, the AMA overhauled the veterans’ disability appeals process to help claims become resolved more quickly.
Designed to clear the backlog, the new processes differ somewhat from the legacy system and went into effect in 2019. Under the new system, veterans still file a Notice of Disagreement, but the rule of the decision officer is replaced by higher levels of review. Under the new system, you specify if you want to file new evidence or go forward with a review based on current documents, including medical records.
Under the AMA system, you can also request a direct review from a Veterans Law Judge on the Board of Veterans Appeals. Sixty percent of veterans choose a direct appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on VA Backlog
The VA is experiencing a severe backlog but has implemented plans to catch up. The process still may take months or years to complete. Therefore, veterans should take every opportunity to ensure that the papers and evidence they submit are completed to the best of their ability. Teaming up with attorneys who specialize in veterans’ disability claims can help you present the strongest possible case.
How long is the VA backlog?
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a claim is considered backlog if it’s still unresolved after 125 days. As of 8/27/2022, they report 623,060 claims in the VA backlog.
Why is the VA backlogged?
There are many factors that can lead to a VA claims backlog. Starting in March 2020, the global pandemic caused an inordinate delay in the ability to retrieve information from the Federal Records Centers. Also related to COVID-19 shutdowns, many pension and compensation examinations were suspended. These exams are required to obtain a rating.
How far behind is the VA on claims?
Generally, you can expect an initial rating in 180 days, but it can take between 90 days to 2 years due to a variety of issues. The more straightforward your case, the faster you can expect to receive an initial rating that can move your claim along.
How long are VA claims taking in 2022?
The VA estimates that it takes 94 days to process an application. In reality, claims are taking much longer due to a continued backlog related to COVID-19 and other factors.
Can Vietnam Veterans still file and get disability benefits for Agent Orange medical issues?
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