In an attempt to combat the backlog, the VA has recently proposed several changes to the claims process. While the VA’s goal is to decrease the amount of time it takes to process a claim, many view the proposed change as potentially harmful to Veterans.
Currently, to file a claim the Veteran need only send a letter to the VA which informs it of the desire to seek benefits for a condition. The Veteran is not required to use a specific form or identify the exact disability or condition. Additionally, if the Veteran wishes to appeal a decision, then he or she is able to write a letter to the VA to initiate an appeal. However, under the proposed regulations, a Veteran would be required to submit specific VA forms which include detailed information about the claim (including identifying the medical condition or stating the reason(s) why there was an error in the previous decision).
Veterans’ advocates have expressed concern over the proposed changes, as the changes will all but eliminate the VA’s obligation to consider a Veteran’s reasonably raised claim(s). Additionally, placing more requirements on the Veteran to fill out a specific form or provide detailed information makes the process more burdensome and less veteran-friendly. Particular concern has been raised for Veterans with mental health conditions or traumatic brain injuries as their conditions may put them at a disadvantage in determining which form to submit and what information to include. As there are a great number of Veterans who file a claim or appeal without representation, navigating the new process could prove difficult.
Currently, the proposed changes are being reviewed by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Though the VA forms have been made available to the public for use, they are not required.