When a veteran finishes their term of service and they receive an honorable discharge, that makes them eligible for VA coverage. VA coverage is meant to cover the disability costs of a veteran who was injured in the line of duty. For many veterans, those disability checks and medical coverage are a vital lifeline.
But sometimes, and more frequently of late, the process of getting coverage is a nightmare for returning vets. During the Obama administration, there was a huge uproar about the gigantic number of unprocessed claims coming in from veterans in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. A large hiring increase was authorized and that backlog was streamlined.
But then another problem emerged. As the claims backlog went down, the appeals backlog went up. And the veterans under appeals likely need the money even more. This story from Vice News tells the story of one veteran who had to pay back a huge amount of what he was already paid, and no one will give him a straight answer as to why.
What Needs To Be Fixed?
Even getting the initial coverage is a bureaucratic nightmare. Elizabeth Lunn, attorney and co-founder of Lunn and Forro, helps veterans navigate the process. “Many veterans find hard to to get coverage or make an appeal without the help of a lawyer. Whether it’s a long wait time that causes a problem to get worse or a refusal of coverage, it’s a problem that must be resolved if we wish to honor those who served for our country.”
To get VA coverage, first veterans have to prove that they were injured. Then they have to prove that the injury was received in the line of duty. Gathering all the documentation for this is a chore in itself, but the forms the VA uses to make a claim are long and complex. These forms often have to go through multiple hands each with their own decision-making processes before a claim is finally approved. Simplifying these forms would make things far easier for veterans and for claims processors to get help, and there has been progress on this front.
The VA also needs to make it easy for veterans to report changes in status. This is part of the big confusion that got the veteran in the Vice News story in such trouble. Veterans need a way to see when they put in a change notification, when it was received, and when it was processed. A system similar to the Social Security Administration’s account system would be a great place to start. It would centralize VA information for a specific veteran so they can prove when things were done. Also, increased education of outgoing veterans to help them understand the process would also help.
But the biggest problem is appeals, and this is where a lawyer can be vital. The VA appeals process is slow and extremely bureaucratic. Talking to officials can be a frustrating experience. But a VA lawyer’s experience can cut through a lot of the red tape and help worried veterans get clear answers about why they were denied coverage and how to fix it.
However, we never should have gotten to this point in the first place. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been around since the Civil War. After over 100 years of existence, you would think that they would have their act together. But until the problems in the VA are fixed, this country is doing our veterans a disservice.