An American Legion case worker takes notes on a veterans appeal for disability benefits denied by the VA. The Legion handles more than 600 such appeals per month, and 60 percent of them are either granted or sent to regional VA offices for further review.

'Quality over quantity'

The American Legion is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to redouble its efforts to reduce the staggering backlog of disability claims filed by veterans. According to the Legion, more than 400,000 new claims are now pending, with an additional 200,000 denials being appealed.

"The VA disability claims backlog is a problem that won't go away anytime soon, but VA can reduce it by emphasizing quality over quantity in the way it processes those claims," said Peter Gaytan, executive director of The American Legion's headquarters in Washington. "One of the most effective ways we can help veterans and their families is to make sure these claims are processed carefully and thoroughly - and that the correct decision is made the first time."

The American Legion is also urging Congress to work closely with VA in its efforts to reduce the claims backlog. The Legion's Legislative Division director, Steve Robertson, is meeting with federal legislators today to recommend that Congress use its oversight authority to measure progress being made by VA, and to consider Legion recommendations on how to improve the situation.

Many veterans submit appeals on VA denials of disability claims, and The American Legion's Appeals and Special Claims Unit in Washington handles more than 600 of them every month.

Barry Searle, director of the Legion's Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, said the appeal process can get complicated, and most veterans whose claims are denied by VA never make the attempt to file an appeal.

"About 85 to 90 percent of veterans who are denied either accept the decision - which is often a mistake - or don't really know how to go about changing it," Searle said. "That's where organizations like The American Legion are critical. Our service officers help veterans get in touch with Legion appeals representatives and assign power of attorney to them. Then we prepare and file a brief at the Board of Veterans Appeals, explaining why VA made a mistake in denying disability benefits to a particular veteran."

VA can take from six months to more than a year in deciding a claim, according to Steve Smithson, principal disability claims expert for The American Legion. "And if a denied claim is disputed, it can take several years to be resolved."

Smithson said many claims are rejected because veterans haven't documented their cases well enough, and VA doesn't take the time to investigate properly. "So they deny the case. And VA employees get a work credit for each claim they make a decision on, whether it's the right one or not," he said. That kind of work incentive program can compromise quality, because getting the proper information and making a proper decision often takes a lot more time. If you start taking shortcuts, then mistakes are made and claims are erroneously denied."

In recent years, Gaytan said, The American Legion has had a 60-percent success rate for the thousands of Board of Veterans Appeals cases it has handled: VA has either awarded the benefits or sent cases back to its regional offices for further review.

"If any veterans need help in filing their VA claims - or appealing the denial of their benefits - they should contact The American Legion and we'll help them through the process, free of charge," Gaytan said.The American Legion has recently added a benefits calculator for veterans to its Web site.



  1. USMC. Okinawa, RVN, Camp lejeune. Have fought thru 2 claims. Denied twice, AO contaminated, not service connected. Huh? Where would I contact AO if not USMC 69-71. Now with parkinsons. Continually denied although given DBS surgery at SF VA. Maybe not this Lejeune admission, maybe finding contaminants on Okinawa or finding my lost records. How many excuses is VA Allowed? I did my part, now how about the promise?
  2. Fantastic blog! I actually love how it is easy on my eyes as well as the info are well written. I am wondering how I can be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which ought to do the trick! Have a nice day! job descriptions
  3. If VA don't want the job, let me have yours. I love to work, even from my wheelchair. You can get my paycheck of $1,056 per month. And I'll get yours of $16.00 per hour approx. We have learned how to live on a budget. You have to, when you go from making approx 30 grand a year to less than 16 grand a year. You buy a house no one else wants. And you make do with most anything. Our riches are in our hearts, not in our wallets. I miss the soldiers I served with. I pray all come home safe. Soon
  4. I'm a soldier. Was trained to be a soldier, and was taught to fight for something that's right. Our compensation claim is right. I've no records because I was denied the right to get help. Or my records have been lossed or destroyed. Even my civilian doctors have destroyed medical records. I'm not one to tell the untruth about what has happen to me. And I won't start now. We are getting tired a waiting for the VA to wait for me to die. I'm not quitting now or ever. If I die my widow will fight
  5. We have fought to find soldiers to help our claim. If you try and get Active Army personel names, they can give my the ranks, but the rest of the names will be blackened out. What good will this do me? But, if I have their SSN number, VA will help me find them. But, if I don't have them, how would I get them? We have fought for over 6 years. How long do we have to fight for them? I got in when I was 19, been in three different branches of the Army. Only retired because of physically unable.
  6. My second issue was I fell during a Confidence Course training mission with the Army Reserves. X-rayed my ankles, and given a pair of crutches. And locked in the wood barracks. No pain killers, In shock, Everyone too busy running their mission. And now I have DDD, degenerated disc disease. I get medical doctors that tell me it could of been caused by that fall, but not one will write this on paper. And my records of this fall can't be located for some reason. So how do I win my claim? 6+ years.
  7. I'm a Veteran for 21 years. I had to retire because my physical body couldn't keep up with my job or training schedule serving with the Iowa National Guard. Then 1 year and 5 months later, I was told to go on total disability through SSDI. In Active Army I was refused medical care in the field. My SFC refused to allow me to go on sick call and my fever burned my brain and my insides for about 6 days. And now I'm sterile and have loss memory at times. Still being denied for other issues too.
  8. I have asked to be placed on the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs' agenda to present recommended changes to the manual that governs how the VA's employees process claims. But I have gotten no reply. My requests about these issues with the VA have also been ignored for months & months - even though I keep reminding the VA by its electronic system. One key change I want is specifics on how the VA will assist Veterans with cognitive issues (mental health) or homeless Veterans.
  9. I am a female veteran who served during the Vietnam War Era. I was harrassed the whole time I was in the service by male soldiers who thought it was their right to do this. I suffered severe depression for many years before I was finally diagnosed as having Bi-Polar Disorder with manic episodes. This type of problem was never documented. How can women veterans get the help they need now? I am still having flashbacks of that treatment from males.
  10. This is scary. I have waited 16 months for my disability claim to be decided on. If the VA won't take the time to look at the results from the Doctors I saw and just make a quick decision, then forcing an appeal that takes another several years why do they even have this program for vets? My suggestion to the VA is don't forget the vets. Give us the time and effort needed to make a honest decision.
  11. I was hurt while in the service, but the doctor who treated me wrote the wrong knee on my medical record. I was denied. I appealed and was denied again. All of the other documentation in my records support my injury. Why can't I get it now? I am told it was so long ago that the time frame for refiling again has expired. This was wrong. Had I known what the doctor wrote, I would have asked it be corrected. I was never told why my claim was denied. This should not happen to anyone again.
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