Veterans’ claims cases will hit ‘tipping point’ under govt plan

Number of claims made through service could soar, Department of Veterans Affairs says

Veterans Affairs’ case managers are on “the verge of a tipping point” over caseloads, the department’s largest union warned.

Requests for help from veterans’ families increased by 14% in 2018, according to figures from a report released on Wednesday by the American Federation of Government Employees. The spike comes just as the agency starts phasing out some relationship specialists.

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“They will face unmanageable caseloads as they try to convince veterans and their families that they truly can help a veteran find long-lasting resources,” said Amanda Brennan, an AFGE service rep who works on veterans’ issues with the agency.

While VA claims and appeals fell 5% in 2018, the number of claims being processed overall climbed to 1.3m, a sharp increase of 13.8%.

The department says this is the result of increasing demands, including a $75bn investment over a decade to extend health coverage to 24m veterans.

Yet some veterans groups, including those supporting the bill to keep veterans’ coverage, argue that the department has cut costs since they started, reducing the long-term cost of the payments.

“Just because the cost has gone down doesn’t mean we shouldn’t provide what they need to stay alive,” said Stephanie Petrovich, president of Soldiers’ Angels, a veterans support group that lobbied Congress to back the proposed legislation.

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There is also concern over the administration’s push to shift more veterans to the government’s self-funding VA Choice program, which could make claims even harder to process.

Around 8 million veterans rely on Veterans Choice as an option for medical care, including those who seek care in non-VA facilities. And Republicans say it should be harder for those veterans to get benefits than it is for those who rely on the public-funded VA.

“We want to encourage people to use the VA, but the VA can’t do everything that veterans need,” said Adam Graves, a spokesman for the House veterans affairs committee.

The department has faced increasing pressure to decrease the large backlog of veterans’ appeals, something it says it is doing. That backlog, which grew from around 65,000 in 2004 to about 555,000 in 2014, has since declined, the department said.

But veterans advocates have argued that in many cases the main driver of appeal backlogs is the complexity of the case files needed to process the appeal. And a Senate report last year determined that the VA’s oversight of its own records and many applications for VA benefits are weak.

“If they knew what was going on, they would certainly do a better job of managing the claims process and reduce the backlog,” said Jamie Dean, co-director of the Open-Government Partnership.

Cases where the department found it could not meet a veterans’ claim increase as the population of people with claims grows, the department said.

The agency’s peak caseload last year was 2.7m, but VA data shows that number could jump to as many as 3.1m by 2023.

Under long-standing rules, veterans can ask that their claims be handled “community care”, which would pay for veterans’ care from non-VA facilities if they need it. The department has been requiring veterans to wait longer and longer to get the claim processed before they can ask for that assistance.

Other states with a backlog of veterans’ claims are Hawaii, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Connecticut, Ohio, Minnesota, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Indiana, Massachusetts, Alabama, Delaware, Alabama, Nebraska, Maine, South Carolina, South Dakota, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Maine, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, New Mexico, Connecticut, New Jersey, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, Alabama, Alabama, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, Indiana, Delaware, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio, Kansas, Colorado, North Carolina, Nebraska, Maine, Missouri,

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