Tuesday, July 2, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: New California "Strike Force" To Tackle State's Massive Veterans Claims Backlog

Good news for the thousands of California war veterans who've been waiting, some of them for years, for their disability claims to be processed. The Reno Dispatch has just learned that long-pending benefits claims submitted by the state's veterans caught in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) processing “log jam” could finally be addressed, thanks to state lawmakers.

California Governor Jerry Brown's new budget has authorized $3 million and 36 limited-term positions that will allow the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) to work with the national VA office to help alleviate its massive veterans’ claims backlog, which nationally still stands at more than 800,000.

The money will be used to hire a “Strike Force” team of 12 Veterans Claims Representatives (VCR) for each of VA’s regional offices in San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland to focus on backlogged claims, ensuring they are properly developed and have all necessary documentation needed for adjudication.

This is a refreshing and rare example of a state-federal coalition created for the benefit of veterans. It's pretty obvious that state lawmakers are listening to veterans and growing tired of waiting for the feds to do the right thing. 

Paul Sullivan, a Gulf War veteran and managing director of public affairs and veterans outreach at Bergmann & Moore, a law firm whose entire practice is devoted to assisting veterans with their disability claims, tells The Reno Dispatch that the firm is "very pleased CALVET follows the lead of the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) and helps our wounded and injured veterans with their VA disability claims. VA truly needs the assistance because the average time for VA to complete a claim is longer than one year, and VA makes mistakes in 30 percent of high-risk claims."

Sullivan adds, "The extra staff hired by CALVET and TVC help our most vulnerable veterans, such as those with new claims, claims on appeal, or claims for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or individual unemployability"

The VA has promised to end the massive backlog by 2015. But many sources say that goal is no longer realistic, despite the VA's recent rollout of its new computerized claims system, which I wrote about earlier this year in The Daily Beast

California veterans are among those who have to wait the longest to get the benefits they've earned. The VA's Oakland office, which serves Northern California veterans and has more than 30,000 claims pending, is one of the worst in the nation with a wait period of more than 600 days for initial claims, according to The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). 

In a statement today, CalVet Secretary Peter J. Gravett said, “We appreciate the leadership of the Governor and the Speaker on this initiative as well as the Legislature’s continued support of CalVet and its efforts to ensure the well-being of California veterans and their families. Helping them get the benefits they so richly deserve after their honorable service to our country is the very least we can do for them.”

CalVet has already begun advertising to fill the limited-term positions and is looking to hire VCRs with previous veterans’ benefits claims processing experience. The VA's national office will provide office space, computers, phones and other equipment for the Strike Teams which will work under the supervision of CalVet regional office staff.


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