Separate System Ensures Wounded Troops Receive Disability Benefits Quickly

The backlog of disability claims for Veterans is getting a lot of media coverage, and everyone throughout VA, from the Secretary on down, has acknowledged that this is an urgent problem they are working to fix.

But it’s important for the American public to know that those Servicemembers who are separating from the military for wounds, injuries or illnesses have their own VA benefits process, and on average receive their disability compensation within three months of leaving the military.

This process, called the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), started in 2007 when the Department of Defense (DOD) and VA collaborated to design a more seamless transition specifically for Servicemembers who could no longer continue with their military careers for medical reasons—which includes PTSD.

To support IDES, VA has dedicated staff to work exclusively on disability claims for this population. Because of this DOD/VA cooperation, VA can begin working the necessary documentation for disability compensation before a wounded, ill or injured Servicemember leaves the military—and provide benefits much faster. It’s also important to know that for severely wounded Servicemembers, the system provides case managers to work one-on-one to ensure all the transition needs are met—especially those of the family.

So if combat wounded, ill and injured Servicemembers are being taken care of within IDES, who is in the current claims inventory and backlog that we hear so much about? Basically, the inventory is made of up people who separated or retired from the military when their time was up. And now that they are in a Veteran status, they are claiming disability compensation for medical conditions incurred or aggravated while serving. This ranges from young troops getting out now to guys who served in World War II. There’s no time limit for filing, and there’s no limit on the number of claims you can file.

In fact, about 60% of the 845,000 pending disability claims are from Veterans for whom VA has already completed at least one claim. About 78% of those Veterans are already receiving monetary compensation at some level—and about half of those are rated with at least a 50% disability, receiving $1000 or more monthly. The other 40% of the total inventory are from Veterans filing for the first time. This 60/40 percent split is roughly the same proportion for claims that have been pending more than 125 days—i.e. the backlog. Also, many people—including reporters covering the story—attribute the growing number of claims to the wind-down of current conflicts.

In reality, only one in five claims in the inventory come from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. The largest portion is actually from Vietnam-era Veterans. That makes sense when you think about the fact that this cohort is now reaching the age where health conditions are worsening. Also, VA’s decision to presume service connection for a variety of medical conditions related to exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used in Vietnam, accounts for many of the claims in the current inventory. What is true about Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is that they are filing more complex claims than their predecessors—meaning each claim has many more medical conditions that VA needs to adjudicate. That’s understandable too, since this relatively small, all-volunteer force has undergone multiple deployments, with more wear and tear on their bodies.

The reality is that, for a variety of reasons, VA is receiving a lot more claims work now than it did in the past. And given the legal requirements VA has to substantiate the claims, the work is outpacing the capacity to process in a timely manner. That’s why it made the investment in new technology, processes and training that will result in a system that can accommodate a higher demand. A change of this magnitude takes time, but it is being built to last—and once it is fully up and running, it will change the way Veterans receive benefits for generations to come.

Patrick Mackin is the director of the Office of Corporate Communications at the Veterans Benefits Administration. He is also a retired U.S. Army colonel.

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20 Comments to “Separate System Ensures Wounded Troops Receive Disability Benefits Quickly”

  1. SCOTT JOHNSON says:

    Sounds good, but if you are a veteran diagnosed with ALS, your words provide little comfort or assurance. Waiting months and years isn’t always an option. I was always impressed by the VA’s ability to treat all veterans equally. This makes me wonder.

    • Tired of waiting Coastie says:

      The answer is: Poor Management … The inability to run a program and manage people based on work load…. Absolutely disgusting … Waiting since 1 JUL 2011.

    • Cat Trombley says:

      Scott,

      Any Veteran with ALS falls into a different category. We process claims for terminally ill Veterans as soon as we know they are ill. If you know or are a Veteran with ALS, please get ahold of your regional office and let them know. We know the implications of ALS and will work with the Veteran and family to quickly process the claim.

  2. John Roane says:

    Please, don’t tell me what you have done, call me when you are current and we don’t have 900,000 waiting in line. If the job is 25% or 50% done, its still not 100% done. Tired of talk and spin get it done.

  3. Mark Overman says:

    I heard all that before and don’t believe a word of it. I’ve had a claim gathering dust for a year and a half. It took more than a month just to get a reply asking if they still had the claim. Then I was told they are still gathering information.
    I suspect they are purposely dragging it hoping I’ll die first.

  4. Susan K. Sonnheim says:

    I was severly injured in Baghdad, Iraq on Sept. 23rd 2003 I am the first female to recieve a Purple Heart in the History of the National Guard I am 100% disabled with 2.5 pages of injuries. Spent two years at Walter Reed in D.C I am A retired nurse who worked at the Veterans Hospital in Milwaukee, WI How can you help ME.
    Sgt Susan Sonnheim

  5. SGT America, Team says:

    Although the IDES works to get these men and women their well earned benefits, it is still taking to darn long for these veterans to receive their benefits. Three months is an awful long time to go without receiving a single pay check. I’ve seen too many wounded warriors struggle within those months because they couldn’t pay their mortgage or put food in the table after 3 months of not being able to receive a check.

    Thankfully, with the help of the Wounded Warrior Project and a local State agency from Massachusetts, we were able to get this proposed 100% service connected wounded warrior temporary financial assistance until the VA is able to compensate the warrior. Like I said before, although it’s a good program, it still has its issues with delivering these men and women their benefits at a reasonable time. In addition, it takes the military (DFAS) about 3 months as well to pay the wounded warrior their monthly medical retirement check as well. This is completely unacceptable.

    In addition, I would like to say one more thing. Although the VA has a backlog of claims in their system, these new proposed initiative to process claims that have been pending longer than 2 years is a hoax. In fact, what the VA is actually doing is taking these claims and denying them without actually attempting to gather the evidence needed which they should have done long ago. As nice and great as it seems, this new initiative is denying claims without fully processing them. What does this mean to the veteran? It means that the poor veteran will have to wait another 3-5 years to get their claim rated because this new initiative won’t allow them to appeal or file a new claim until a year of receiving the denial.

    How do I know this? Because employees at the VBA are standing up for these veterans who’s claims will be denied just to solely clean up their numbers. If the VBA denies these claims without actually “gathering evidence” or requesting Agent Orange exposure verifications during Vietnam, then who’s getting screwed here? Let’s be real here, folks.

    As great as this new initiative sounds, what it’s actually going to do is unjust for our nations heroes. Claims that have been waiting longer then 2 years will just be denied. In turn, this will make the VBA look GREAT because they no longer have claims in their system which have been pending longer than 2 years.

    If you should file a claim, PLEASE make sure to file a Fully Developed Claim (FDC) with ALL of your medical and service records. This is the fastest way to get a claim rated through the VBA. It…

  6. Domingo Aguilar says:

    I was an active duty recruiter for the California Army National Guard when I was injured. I have several injuries that are all service connected, but the one that caused me the worst problem was my left eye which I went blind from. I was put on medical leave while being treated for a couple of years which allow the military medical board to evaluate my medical conditions which I was found unable to continue further military service due to my medical conditions. I was told that I would have to retire being that I had well over 20 years of active duty years. I filed my claim on the 25th of July 2010, and retired on the 31st of 2010,since the I was found 90% service connected and had several contentions deferred one being my blind left eye on March of 2012. Since then I have being waiting to have my claim finished and awarded my rating for my eye, and the other medical issues that I suffer from. This July will be 3 years since I filed my claim and I have a family to support which the delay from the VA have caused a great hardship for me and my family. I am unable to work due to my medical disabilities which are all service connected, and am currently receiving my social security because of my military service. So, I don’t understand who the veterans are that are getting their claims awarded within 3 months, because I can honestly say that I am not one of those veterans. I am a very sick person, and I am suffering a great deal of stress having to wait for my benefits from the VA. I am also taking a great deal of medications, which many of them are for the stress and depression that I suffer from due to losing my eye sight from my left eye. When I was awarded my 90% from the VA I was and have been paid as a single person, and nothing for my dependent which I have been receiving about $131.00 less because of them not paying me for my wife. I just wish there was someone out there that could help me get my benefits that I have not received from the VA for my conditions. Sorry for such a long comment, but I just had to tell someone cause I haven’t been able to get a straight answer from the VA on when my claim will be completed.

    Thank you for reading about my problem with the VA.
    Respectfully Submitted.

    • Nancy BP says:

      First,thank you for your service and for the sacrifice your family has made over the last 20 years. I would suggest you contact the state service officer for The American Legion for help. They are trained to help you with your claim. If you can’t find the service officer in you state contact the National American Legion in WDC.
      Good Luck…you and your family deserve better

  7. Kenneth cunningham says:

    I have had claims that I had to resubmitted as well as new claims submitted. I have submitted thousands of pages of medical records well over a year. I also submitted 100% temporary disability and employability mid 2012 with no response; meanwhile more surgeries will come soon. I have made numerous calls check on status. Also I have been checking e-benefits portal, with no answers. No one is maintaining the portal even though we are told to go there for our updates and claim status. Calls made are with zero responses on status of claims. Each time the exact same thing is said. It is obvious the person is reading from a card or computer screen. I cannot even get an answer on temporary 100%status (temporary 100%) which has been a year.
    SSI percentage is 100%, I even received a letter from VA stating they had to request SSI files and I can expect a long period of SSI response time. SSI had records to VA within a couple weeks. They were just as fast awarding me 100%. Of course this helped with the bills. It is obvious scanning our medical records are not getting scanned in a timely manner. We have had to send records in more than once. When I receive a request asking for records we already submitted it’s obvious. My family helped be put all my records in note books tabbed and indexed for VA and my doctors reference. I have done everything possible to comply with VA requests.

    My last call was on Friday 3 May. I talked with a lady by the name of Pam. I must say in all my years working with VA she was the rudest lady I have ever encountered. She could care less about Vets. Before we hung up she told me I called the wrong regional office. I have no idea how I got her. I called or thought I called Bay Pines. Either way she had no right to be so rude and downright mean. She should be working in another position, where she has no contact with humans.
    I arrived home with injuries from Afghanistan in June 2011 and retired 0ct 2011. I have had a rough go at getting though surgeries, dealing with pain and not able to work. The first year I spent a lot of my savings trying to do all my appointments with Tricare and VA and paying bills. My medical experience and injuries has been wearing on me. I would just like some answers.

    Sergeant Major (retired)
    Kenneth E. Cunningham

  8. dwight hughes says:

    yeh they are so called losing information and turning everyone down to make this system look good.what a joke

  9. Orlando Miller says:

    You guys just now realize the claims backlog “is an urgent problem…..” If “the work is outpacing the capacity to process in a timely manner”, then hire, train, and provide bonus incentives to the reps processing claims. Bonus checks should be given to the poor saps in the trenches who are inundated with claims; not the top echelon making up excuses. Your very own Monday Morning Report and Aspire data tells a tale of ratings claim inaccuracy and goals that have NEVER been attained by any of the 56 regional offices.

  10. james says:

    I just read what the Director of Communications for the VA said about backlog of claims and who is filing what, and why are all the fuss about disabilities causing the RVSR (Rating Veterans Service Representatives) unable to keep up with their system. First let me say this, not all of the VARO’s follow their own regulations from the higher echelons of society government. We have been in THIS WAR for over 11 years with no sight or reason why we got there in the first place. I would suggest that we stop complaining about what the VBA and VHA is doing and collectively start getting attorney’s who knows the Federal Laws in Title 38 and 38 USC to start suing the government. Starting with the DOD and it’s military leaderless ship. To much talk and never deliver the goods when needed. There’s an old VA saying that goes like this, ” Grant if you must, but deny if you can. With that said, I hope the General will start firing some of his leaderless ship Directors who should be held accountable and responsible for the welfare of the veterans in their AOJ. James K.

  11. Sgt Norm says:

    The VA has had a new line of BS for over 30 years as to why they are so inept.
    I first filed my claim in 1977 and it was finally approved, under the threat of taking it through federal court, in 2012. You do the math. Probably most of you that are waiting for your claim to be processed aren’t as old as my claim was. A little absurd, isn’t it? I have come to accept this inadequacy by remembering that those who mistreat and lie to others will pay for their “sins” in hell. Thinking that way has given me some mental comfort as I fought my battles, both on the field and through the VA system.

  12. TaylorLeeBlve says:

    Everything about the VA has some type of eyewash wrapped around its corridor. They have to allow a certain percentage to received benefits albeit schooling, compensation, and pensions. The real story is this: The VA knew on September 12, 2001 that they were going to have a veteran’s backlog.
    You say that veterans with severe injuries are a top priority, along with homeless veterans, and the rest of those that follows. Silly me, I thought this was already the plateau that our wounded warriors would be the top priorities…why on earth wouldn’t they be? All of a sudden, you are making them a top priority-.get honest about this new initiative! Are we really buying into this no-nonsense?
    All these initiatives with no real work behind them lead to more disgruntled veterans and spouses I hope that each and every day they go into their office that a claim is being awarded compensation benefits no matter what it is (education, pension, disability, etc.). This includes the VA health care benefit.
    I hope the folks that are hired see the veteran in the claims they actively touch. I hope the folks that are hired see themselves as a veteran if they are not one. I hope the folks who are hired be imaginative. I hope the folks that are hired be persuasive every once in a while so that a real honest claim gets through all the red tape.
    I hope the folks that makeup the rules, make no more rules because they are not following the ones they made up before this rule.
    I hope the folks that read these blogs believe in the power of prayer.
    When I read the comments made from other veterans my heart hurts because this site too is another way for veterans and spouses to vent. You cannot guarantee me that my claim will be processed and awarded in accordance to USC 38, WARMS and other legislations in spite of concrete evidence-what in the world are they reviewing? Somebody need to be about the father’s business and stop all this eyewash to deter and refer the people who rightfully deserve every piece of monies you can give them!
    On the lighter side, to all my veteran families I pray that General Shinseki office staff do not deny your claim because of the secrets behind the new initiatives I concur with the next individual, somebody need to start suing not only the VA but the middle folks who are supposed to be the subject matter expert in helping you with your claimed benefits. This includes the NSO’s who are closer to the regional office than the county VSO’s. What exactly is the NSO specific job description and what are they to the VA your claim.
    Keeping it…

  13. SFC (RET) says:

    Being as I have been paid from the begging as single but am still married with 2 children this is a commen trend with the VA. I called the 1-800 number and was told that “Some people get divorced after their service or they don’t want to have the money going to the same people when they get out and thats why it happens for dependency”. Sorry but WTF?!!! If I didn’t ask for the change then the VA should not change it on their own. My wife was with me when I had to take my DD214 to the VA rep at the hospital on post as the last thing for my final out during my medical retirement after 22 yrs. I have it time and date stamped as 15 DEC 11. I have since had to resubmit it a second timeat the intitial request for increase which the VA received 25 APR 12. I again had to resubmit the dependency paperwork which the VA now says they have received on 18 MAR 13. A call again said that they will go back to time of receipt of claim, sorry but my wife and child did not drop off of the face of the Earth for that amount of time. I called the DAV and two weeks later I have had my pyhsc C&P and will have my regular DOC C&P on 13 JUN. Yeah for DAV! To bad I only had a less than 10 minute visit with the shrink. I guess I know what that means. It sounds like most of us are in the same boat er foxhole as it may be on waiting for claims. Here in LA the parish that I go through if you want to see the VA rep that day you had better be in the parking lot at or before 0630. He takes his time and makes sure what he does gets to where it is going. He asks the hard questions and makes sure that you follow up with him if any issues arise. Being a fellow Vet this rep is behind us 110% and he is the only one for a parish that has others coming in from far and wide including across the border in TX but he takes care of us all. That is a rare thing to see these days. Thanks for taking the time to read this,
    signed, a long winded SFC (ret)

  14. Juan says:

    Promises and promises is hurt to see high executives getting bonuses without deserving it, and We the Veterans that waiting YEARS no months but YEARS DRAGGING OUR CLAIMS TO THE POINT THAT CONVERT ON APPEAL, THEN IF BVA CONTINUE TO DENYING THE APPEAL GOING TO THE COURT OF VETERANS APPEAL AND THE JUDGE SEE ALL THE EVIDENCE IN FAVOR TO THE VETERAN AND GET APPROVE, BY THEN WE ARE DEAD OR TERMINAL ILL TO SEE OR UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH WE ARE COMPENSATE.

  15. William Tuey says:

    I believe some of the problem is antiquated equipment and communication with the veteran filing the claim. I was waiting for over a year back in the 90′s, now our wounded veterans are waiting over 2 years to get the benefits they deserve. All records should be easily accessible to the ones making the decisions and the veteran should not have to submit all these medical records to the VA. When doctors say a veteran has a disability the VA should take the doctors word, not require further testing by other doctors. If you want to expedite these claims, hire more claims adjusters to meet the demand. It is very sad seeing veterans coming from war zones and waiting 2 years for a decision, please expedite the claims process so these warriors receive the care and funding they deserve.

  16. kelly says:

    We turned in a “super fully developed claim” at the beginning of May. Everything that is needed to make a decision is there to include Nexus letters and DBQ’s. Can someone tell me where the claim goes first? We turned in 2 binders with a combined total of over 600 pages. Are documents being scanned? Will ebenefits ever refer to this as a FDC or does it not specify? I want to be sure it is being processed as a FDC and if so, based on the info provided, what is an estimated completion time? I appreciate the feedback.

  17. Bill Ward says:

    The current initiative to clear 2 year old “initial claims” by June of 2013 will not help many veterans whose claims are much older than that because they were given an initial denial due to a VA error. The VA’s own internal auditor said that they found errors in 46% of the denied claims that they looked at. These claims are no longer considered “initial claims”, they are considered to be “in appeal” and are taking 3-5 years on average to be finalized.