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Army Urges Faster Processing of VA Disability Claims

Posted on Apr 22, 2013

The U.S. Army currently has 27,000 wounded, ill, and injured troops waiting to leave the service. Most of these soldiers have been injured in Iraq or Afghanistan and cannot leave the military until they receive a Veteran’s Administration (VA) disability rating. A VA disability rating determines an injured soldier’s eligibility for VA benefits and the amount of benefits he or she receives.

The VA says its resources are taxed to the limit. There are currently 900,000 pending disability claims, excluding the 27,000 injured soldiers. It is taking the VA an average of 400 days to complete the claims process, including medical examinations, evaluation boards, VA rating and out-processing. The Army thinks the VA needs to bring more manpower to the task.

The Army has put its money where its mouth is. In 2011, the Pentagon and VA created a joint separation process that would allow injured soldiers to begin receiving disability benefit checks within 30 days of leaving the service. The Army spent millions of dollars on the joint program with the VA, but instead of cutting the backlog of soldiers waiting to leave the service, the backlog has increased. Two years ago, there were 18,000 ailing servicemen waiting for VA ratings.

However, there have also been some improvements. The part of the process controlled by the Army is moving faster, but the VA can’t keep up. The VA increased the number of rating specialists handling Army cases from 119 in October to 135 in January. As of February, 6,500 soldiers were waiting to receive VA disability ratings.

The Army says the delay affects military readiness. Disabled soldiers are not deployable, and they cannot be replaced until they separate from the military.

The VA has recently experienced intense criticism for failing to reduce its own backlog of 900,000 pending cases. More than 600,000 cases have been waiting longer than four months.

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John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney of Keefe Disability Law