WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials on Thursday unveiled a new disability claims process they promise will result in decisions within 30 days, potentially shaving months off some veterans’ current wait.
But that timeline doesn’t factor in advance work veterans must do on their own to collect relevant medical tests and service documents. And for now, the new process is only open to veterans looking to upgrade existing disability claims, not new cases.
Still, VA officials say the new Decision Ready Claims initiative could significantly reduce wait times and frustration for many veterans whose cases currently take an average of more than 100 days to reach a decision. VA Secretary David Shulkin praised the announcement as “a collaborative effort between VA and VSOs to help veterans.”
The DRC process, in a pilot phase since May, requires veterans to work closely with veterans service organizations to ensure all relevant medical evidence has been collected before submitting their claims. Officials said the advance work will allow the files to be assigned immediately to claims processors for a decision within 30 days.
The current process allows veterans to submit claims to VA with little advance paperwork, putting the burden on VA officials to collect military service records, medical documents and other relevant background information. If veterans opt for the DRC process, they’ll have to gather and submit those documents themselves.
It’s similar to the Fully Developed Claim process created by VA in 2013, where outside veterans groups can review and certify disability claims evidence to speed up VA processing.
In the new DRC initiative those groups — which include well-known organizations like Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars — have more authority to examine those documents and mandate additional evidence collection.
Ryan Gallucci, VFW’s director of the National Veterans Service, said the new program provides another key option for veterans seeking disability compensation “but it may not be the best option for every veteran.”
He called it an “aggressive” move by VA to more quickly help veterans who have ready access to most of their case file and experience compiling the relevant documents. But for some veterans with difficult cases or missing files, the process could create longer waits or more confusion than the regular VA procedures.
“Veterans are going to have to trust their VSOs recommendations on what is best for their individual cases,” he said.
The 30-day promise applies to when the claim is filed with VA, not when veterans first make contact with a veteran’s service group.
VA officials said they expect the DRC process to expand to more disability claims in coming months. Claims for increased compensation represent about 10 percent of VA’s total disability benefits caseload.
More information on the new initiative, including lists of organizations certified to work with veterans on claims, is available on the department’s web site.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.