Are you one of the thousands of veterans that were thinking about applying for VA disability right when the Coronavirus pandemic hit? Here is the status of VA disability applications in spite of COVID-19.
Even though we’re still learning about it, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on the world.
Vulnerable populations – including veterans on disability – have been especially hard hit. Not only are people with pre-existing conditions at a higher risk of contracting the virus, but veterans are now dealing with a growing VA claims backlog, canceled C&P exams, and missing out on the benefits they need and deserve.
With all the uncertainty veterans are facing – both with regards to their health and finances – it’s important to know exactly how the COVID pandemic is affecting veterans’ disability claims. Having this information will give you an idea of how long you’ll have to wait for your benefits. Plus, you’ll know what action you need to take to make sure you do, indeed, receive your benefits – and what actions to take if you’re denied.
In this Article About COVID-19 and the VA Disability Claims Process:
- How the COVID Pandemic Is Affecting Veterans’ Disability Claims
- Canceled C&P Exams During the Pandemic
- Penalties for Missing a C&P Exam
- Appeals Limbo with Limited Time to Appeal
- The VA Disability’s History of Backlogged Claims
- Woods & Woods, The Veteran’s Firm – Always Prepared for an Emergency
- Every Veteran Deserves Their Benefits
- Take Care of Your Health and Let Us Fight for You
How the COVID Pandemic Is Affecting Veterans’ Disability Claims
Because of COVID-19, the VA shut down its 50+ regional offices temporarily. During the shutdown, C&P exams were canceled.
As of August 2020, the backlog of VA disability claims had risen to over 203,000, the highest it’s been since March 2017.
The VA has been trying to reduce the backlog, but efforts have stalled because of the virus. Below are some examples of how the COVID pandemic is affecting veterans’ disability claims.
Canceled C&P Exams During the Pandemic
A Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam is the second step of the VA disability claims review process (while it is the third step in the Integrated Disability Evaluation System).
During this appointment, a VA-appointed physician performs a physical examination. The doctor will evaluate the severity of the patient’s case, the result of which will help determine whether a veteran is eligible for disability. In some cases, two examinations are necessary – one by a general physician and the second by a specialist, such as an audiologist, dentist, or optometrist.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the VA closed their offices and canceled C&P examinations. As of October 9, 2020, some offices were reopening, though with limited appointments and in limited locations. According to the VA, their doctors are conducting telehealth exams via video conferencing or phone calls. They’re also reviewing medical records using ACE (Acceptable Clinical Evidence) exams, which allow them to review existing medical records and only scheduling in-person visits if necessary.
Penalties for Missing a C&P Exam
The VA feels that it has been consistent in sending out notices of the need for a C&P exam, and if you don’t show up for the appointment, they can deny your claim. Even if you never received the notification.
The reason for this is due to the presumption of regularity. Under the law, a presumption can be made without proof, shifting the burden of proof from one party to another. In the case of VA documents, the VA doesn’t have to “waste time” verifying that documents – like notifications of a C&P exam – have been sent. Because they send such documents with regularity, it’s presumed that they did their job correctly until proven otherwise.
The VA will assume they used standard procedure to tell you that an exam was necessary or that it had been canceled or rescheduled. If, for some reason, you never received a notification – the burden of proof lies with you.
Your best option is to contact the VA to see if you need to schedule (or reschedule) a C&P exam to move your disability claim along.
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Appeals Limbo with Limited Time to Appeal
Veterans must file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) within one year of claim denial. With claims being in limbo, and because regional offices were closed and only a few currently re-opening with limited hours, time is of the essence.
The BVA (Board of Veterans’ Appeals) is currently accepting AOD (Advance on Docket) motions for Veterans who have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus. Talk to your legal representative to learn if you should file this motion and what documentation you’ll need.
If you’re working with us, we are already working on these, but feel free to give us a call to see how your case is doing.
Talk to Us About Your Claim: (866) 232-5777
The VA Disability’s History of Backlogged Claims
The COVID-19 crisis isn’t the first time veterans have been in disability claim limbo. Here are some past situations that led to a claim backlog.
VA Disability Records Building Burns Down
In 1973, the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) somehow (the cause is still unknown) caught fire. The blaze burned uncontrollably for 22 hours. Firefighters weren’t even able to enter the building until two days after they extinguished the fire.
Because of the water damage and subsequent mold, millions of records were lost. The number of Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) lost: 16–18 million.
The service records of military members discharged between 1912 and 1950 were lost, in addition to Air Force personnel records of those discharged from 1947 through 1964.
The loss adversely affected millions of veterans and their dependents. Without those records, establishing eligibility for disability benefits for veterans (or their next of kin) was difficult. VA disability workers didn’t know what was specifically in those files, and with the fire, that information was lost for good.
Though the fire took place over 45 years ago, as of 2018, the VA still employs over 40 full-time employees who work exclusively on requests for information lost in that event.
It may be difficult to get 100% TDIU from one disability, but here one of our VA disability lawyers talks about common disabilities that add up to a 100% combined rating.
Policy Changes (Legacy to AMA)
In a press release dated October 29, 2019, the VA announced that they had finalized a plan to resolve legacy appeals, with the goal of completing these appeals by December 2022.
In 2017, Congress passed the AMA (Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017). Legacy appeals are claims about which the VA had reached a decision, prior to Congress passing the AMA, and the claimants had decided not to participate in the new appeals process. After the Act passed, VA disability received an influx of legacy appeals.
Currently, the goal is to pare down the legacy appeals, while at the same time work through the AMA appeals, so that all veterans receive decisions in a timely fashion. Still, the process takes time and with the COVID outbreak, work has significantly slowed.
Agent Orange Presumption
The biggest spike in claims backlog (before COVID) was in 2010 when the VA secretary added new conditions to the Agent Orange Presumption’s list of covered conditions. Now covered are Parkinson’s Disease, Ischemic Heart Disease, and Chronic B Cell Leukemias.
One of our VA disability lawyers goes over the Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions list in this video:
Other Causes of Claims Backlog
The claims backlog was particularly bad in March 2013, with over 610,000 claims waiting to be processed, many of them for over 125 days, as you can see from the VA Administration Report shared earlier.
In 2015, the VA made significant progress. The VA disability claims backlog dropped by 84% to under 100,000 claims. The VA celebrated this achievement of its lowest backlog in history in a blog post, which outlined what helped them improve their numbers.
But what had gotten them in such a precarious situation in the first place? New policies are one reason. Others include:
- An increase in the complexity of claims
- IT issues
- Processing errors
- Poor processing system design
Even though the VA made some progress, Congress still wasn’t satisfied. After all, 100,000 unaddressed claims mean that 100,000 veterans are in limbo financially, something that no veteran should ever have to experience. To help relieve the backlog, Congress passed H.R.2288 – Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. The new law went into effect on February 19, 2019.
According to the VA Administration report, the backlog seemed to drop slightly between February 2019 and December 2019. Unfortunately, the pandemic has not just stalled its progress, but it’s also reversed it for the time being.
Woods & Woods, The Veteran’s Firm – Always Prepared for an Emergency
The team at Woods & Woods, LLC is constantly thinking about how best they can serve the veterans in their community. One way they’ve decided to do this is to create an action plan for emergencies.
In 2019, no one expected a pandemic would essentially shut down the world. And yet, the Woods & Woods’ legal team is prepared for such a situation. Here are some ways that we help veterans while exercising social distancing precautions.
- Remote Workers: We have over 90 staff members who are ready to put their knowledge and experience to good use for you. We had to cancel “Bring Your Kid to Work Day” for the first time in years but we are still fully operational while working from home.
- Stellar Connectivity: Everyone on our team has reliable phone and internet connections. We’re able to easily connect with each other and with our clients via telephone or video conferencing. We have regular team huddles to discuss cases in progress, deadlines, and changes to VA law.
- Online Resources: You don’t need to consult with an attorney for every question you have (at least right away). We have a variety of resources to help answer your burning questions, including our free VA disability benefits rating calculator.
Your privacy and safety are our foremost concern. Therefore, we’ve taken steps to ensure both of these whenever you meet with our team virtually or whenever we share records with VA disability representatives. While our physical office is an old jail built in the 1890s, all of your information is triple-backed up to guard against hackers and data loss.
A behind the scenes look at who works for you at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm
Every Veteran Deserves Their Benefits
The process of getting VA disability can seem daunting, so much so, in fact, that some veterans avoid making a claim.
As an active service member, you gladly put so much on the line for your country, including your life and health. As a US veteran, you deserve to be properly cared for, especially if you experienced injury or became ill during your service.
Getting the benefits you’re owed (and yes – that you deserve!) isn’t always easy. It can be an exhausting, frustrating, time-consuming process. Don’t try to do it on your own. Get help from an experienced legal team that thoroughly understands disability law and will do all they can to ensure you receive your benefits.
Talk to Us About Your Claim: (866) 232-5777
Take Care of Your Health and Let Us Fight for You
In this moment in history, so much is unknown and it’s not unreasonable to expect certain difficulties, like backlogs at the VA. However, this doesn’t mean you should go without your benefits.
If you’re curious how the COVID pandemic is affecting veterans’ disability claims, contact our team for more information. If your claim is part of the backlog, contact us right away. The legal team at Woods & Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, has been helping veterans since 1985 and we’re ready to fight for you.
Are you stuck in VA disability claim limbo? Call us at 866-232-5777 or fill out our online appointment request form to schedule a free consultation.