Legion tackles claims backlog in Baltimore

Several accredited representatives and members of The American Legion’s national staff are visiting the Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Baltimore this week, providing guidelines and training for the processing of fully developed disability claims from veterans

The visit is part of the Legion’s annual nationwide Regional Office Action Review (ROAR) program, conducted by representatives from its Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division; other visits have been made to VA regional offices in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, with more being planned later this year.

“The Legion and VA are emphasizing the development and submission of more fully developed claims (FDCs) by veterans, since they usually move through the claims processing system much faster,” said Richard Dumancas, deputy director of benefits for the VA&R Division. “The chief reason is because necessary medical documentation has already been gathered into the claims file.

"This means that staff processing those claims at VA don’t have to go after service records that may be missing, and they don’t have to wait for doctors to send in their private records. Veterans can actually do their part in reducing the claims backlog by submitting FDCs.”

If a submitted claim needs additional documentation to prove that an injury or illness is service-connected, VA has to send out a Veterans Claims Assistance Act letter that asks for more records.

“With the FDC’s, the VA won’t have to send out notifications for additional records," said Lori Perkio, VA&R Division’s assistant director for claims. "This can really cut the (processing) time down, so that’s a big benefit, considering where the backlog is now. We’re helping VA by promoting FDCs and educating veterans on what they need to get that complete claim submitted right the first time."

VA’s regional office in Indianapolis is already processing disability claims “that are almost 100 percent fully developed,” said Zack Hearn, a national appeals representative in the VA&R Division. “From our standpoint, they are doing an excellent job.”

While compensation is the main benefit of a claims award, Hearn said that other benefits can be derived. For example, a 10-point veterans preference rating “may be the difference between getting a job and not getting a job in hard economic times," he said. "Also, if veterans are receiving disability compensation, they don’t have to pay funding fees when they file for VA mortgages. So all these things stack up over time.”

Hearn advises any veteran who has submitted a disability claim to “wait until VA makes its decision before submitting any more information. If you send more documentation before a decision is reached, your claim will be kicked out of the system” and a final decision will be further delayed.

All the more reason to get faster decisions on claims, said Verna Jones, director of the Legion’s VA&R Division. “The challenge is that we have so many more veterans coming into the VA system, because we’ve been at war for almost 12 years," she said. "So now we’ve got a tremendous number of new veterans who are filing benefit claims. The FDC program helps VA to move those claims through the system more quickly and cut down on the backlog.”

Jones said that American Legion service officers are receiving more FDC training. “We have about 2,600 of them nationwide, and they are the ones who can help a veteran track down her records and make sure the claim she submits has all the necessary documentation.”

To locate the nearest American Legion Service Officer, go to www.legion.org or download the Legion’s Claims Coach mobile application from Google Play or the Apple iTunes store.