02 Apr Abrupt VA Change Can ‘Erode Veterans Right To Competent Representation’ In Benefits Fights Argues VFW
The Department of Veterans Affairs has decided to end a decades-old practice of letting veterans service representatives to review benefits decisions for accuracy before those decisions are finalized and sent to veterans.
Veterans of Foreign Wars that employ about 300 representatives across the country argue this change can lead to more problems and paperwork for veterans. Paul Lawrence, the VA undersecretary of benefits, announced the change at a meeting with veterans groups last week, said Ryan Gallucci, a director at the VFW’s office in Washington. It will be put into effect by the end of April.
“This is a last-chance quality review,” Gallucci said. “We raised our concerns and said we’d really appreciate the ability to demonstrate why it’s so important, but he basically said his mind was made up. This was happening, whether we agreed or not.”
Representatives accredited by the VA have 48 hours to review new rating decisions on behalf of their veteran clients as outlined in a VA manual. The decisions determine the level of compensation for service-connected injuries and illnesses.
The representatives check for inadvertent errors that could save veterans from having to file appeals or to request VA reviews. VFW representatives find errors in 5% to 7% of claims, Gallucci said.
“The VA is shifting the burden to veterans to discover its errors,” he said.
VFW National Commander William Schmitz also argued it was an “inconceivable” change that would erode veterans’ right to competent representation in benefits claims. The group also questioned the timing of the change, which will be implemented as the country — and the Veterans Health Administration — responds to the global coronavirus pandemic.
The VA decided to make the change because its online claims system made the 48-hour review process “obsolete,” said VA Press Secretary Christina Mandreucci.
While it’s true that representatives can access their veterans’ files, there no longer will be a process in which they can make changes to the decisions before they’re finalized, Gallucci argued.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in February; the VA was on track to remove its appeals inventory by July.