In an effort to streamline its claims process, the Department of Veteran Affairs announced the official launch of the Decision Ready Claims program for all regional VA offices on Sept. 8, which promises a decision on claims for upgrading disability compensation within 30 days of filing, and could potentially cut out months of waiting.
The system, which has been in the pilot phase since May 1, requires veterans to work with accredited veteran service organizations, such as Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars, to ensure a veteran has all necessary documentation for their disability compensation upgrade prior to submitting the paperwork. Veterans in need of VSO services can locate the nearest office by searching on the VA website.
Currently, veterans can submit a claim with little additional paperwork, which places the impetus on the VA to collect the required documents, schedule any necessary exams, and generally, do most of the heavy lifting. Under the Decision Ready Claims process, veterans can opt to do that legwork themselves ahead of time.
“For veterans who need more flexibility in scheduling doctors appointments and to gather evidence, it might help,” Ryan Gallucci, VFW’s director of the national veterans service, told Task & Purpose. “Right now DRC is making it so veterans take on a lot of the responsibility to take on their own claim. That may be good for some, but probably not the best way for most.”
Veterans opting for the new claims process will have to gather the required documentation then have a VSO representative review the documents to ensure everything is in order. The VSO rep can then mandate additional evidence for the claim if it's needed before the claim is submitted. Once filed, the VA has 30 days to respond.
While the DRC currently is limited to claims for increased disability compensation, which represent about 10% of VA’s total claims, according to Military Times, the department plans to expand the types of claims accepted under DRC in the coming months.
Infographic via the Department of Veteran Affairs
While 30 days is a vast improvement, officials warn that collecting the information needed for the claim can be time-consuming.
“Gathering their military personnel records, military medical records, any private medical evidence you might have, any statements from your family members or people you served with in support of your claim, that can take a long time,” Gallucci told Task & Purpose, adding that it could take months, maybe even a year for a veteran to gather all the requisite material for the DRC.
It’s possible that by shifting the legwork from VA representatives to veterans and VSOs, the department is attempting to tackle an issue that’s plagued it for years: the claims backlog.
“In a way it takes the development time off of VA’s books and has the potential to artificially make the backlog look better or make the pending workload look better, because that time still exists, the veteran is still responsible for going to exams and collecting evidence,” Gallucci said. “With how the paperwork would be filed, it would no longer be considered part of the pending workload.”
In March 2013, the VA came under fire when its backlog of claims peaked at 610,000, drawing harsh criticism and calls for reform. In the years since, it has shrunk, fluctuating around 100,000, according to Military Times.
Ultimately, it’s up to the individual veteran to decide whether DRC will work in their case.
“It's an aggressive pilot program, and we're going to work with VA to make sure it works and meets the needs of veterans, that's our top priority," said Gallucci. “Anyone interested in this program should have an honest conversation with your veteran service officer.”