Editor’s note: This is the final story in a series of five blogs focusing on appeals.
In my previous four posts, I discussed the difference between a claim and an appeal and the appeals process that occurs in the VA regional offices and at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals , as well as what happens if your appeal is remanded by the board. If you have not read those posts, I suggest you start with those, as this post is a synopsis of those.
As we’ve discussed, the appeals process is a complex, confusing, lengthy and multi-staged system. In fact, VA’s current appeals system is 80 years old. Due to specific legal processes that are required to appeal a disability claim decision, VA is not able to operate the same type of appellate system that can be found in other federal and Judicial systems.
As I read through your comments these last few weeks and engaged in discussions with many of you, I found you reinforcing what we at VA already know – the current appeals process is broken and it is failing you.
Many of you asked about the increase in appeals over the last several years. I told you that historically about 11-12 percent of all claims are appealed and of those only about 4-5 percent are appealed to the board. The number of growing appeals is a matter of simple math.
In each of the last six years, we have processed more than 1 million claims, and in the last four years we have broken records each year. If you complete that many claims, and 10-12 percent are appealed, it means a larger volume of appeals
There were several stories expressing frustration at how long it takes to get an answer to your appeal. I told many of you the average processing time for all appeals resolved in FY 2015 was 3.1 years. For those appeals that reach the board, on average, Veterans are waiting at least 5 years for an appeal decision, with thousands of Veterans waiting much longer.
Five years is longer than my enlistment in the Air Force. Unlike other appeal systems in the government, you can add new evidence at any point in the VA appeal process. When this is done, VA has to effectively restart its review of the claim and issue a new decision, even if you already had a decision, or two or more. This adds considerable time to the appeal. Think about it: If a decision review officer has to look at the same appeal three or four times to consider new evidence and issue another new decision, that is time he or she is not working another appeal. On average, appeals that reach the board arrive there with two additional decisions beyond the original decision being appealed. It’s more for those that have been remanded.
You Deserve Better
The current wait time is unacceptable. You deserve better. Many of you described scenarios that seemed outside the norm. VA believes justice delayed is justice denied. It’s obvious the length and complexity of the appeals process are taking a significant toll on your lives.
We should be providing you a final answer to your appeals within one year of filing an appeal rather than spreading frustration with a process that takes too long.
We believe it is time for a modern appeals system that puts your needs, expectations and interests first. But without comprehensive legislative reform of the appeals process, we won’t be able to provide you a final decision within a year.
Our secretary has called upon stakeholders – Veterans service organizations, members of Congress and others – to meet with us to figure out how we can deliver you the timely, fair appeals process you deserve.
These stakeholders are meeting over three days later this month and have committed to collectively working to finding a solution to which everyone can agree.
I have hope – as a VA employee, a former advocate who worked appeals and as a Veteran who has filed an appeal.
I hope this series helped you better understand the appeals process. As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.