When you have been involved in VA disability for as long as I have, your start to hear the same questions repeated consistently. The most common question we get from new clients involves the timeline. “How long will my VA Disability claim take?” I don’t blame Vets for asking this question. Most people filing for VA disability aren’t having a great time in life, and they need their compensation to help alleviate some of the stress of working with a disability. Honestly, in almost every instance, the answer to “how long will my claim take,” is answered with the following response: “a long time.”
Veterans are frustrated with this process, and they have every right to be upset. I talk to dozens of Veterans every week. Most of us who have never served will never experience anything close to what a majority of the Vets I talk to have described to me. One would think these people wouldn’t have to wait two to four years for their final decisions. But, our country is focused on other things right now, and fixing the VA is only a talking point. Since I am not wealthy enough to run for public office, I will instead share my knowledge about the VA disability timeline. These are 5 actual issues all Veterans should know about the timeline.
- It’s not improving. Our government is doing a good job of spinning the numbers pertaining to the VA Disability backlog. The VA states that the backlog is being reduced. Honestly, the way they present that information makes me want to believe it’s true too. However, as I reported back in November of 2015, the backlog reduction only pertains to new applications, not the claims that are on appeal. So yes, they may have reduced initial backlog, but the appeals process still takes just as long. If there is one thing I want a Veteran to take away from this list, it’s the appeals process, and the disability process as a whole, is not going to be quick.
- Active Duty Military Personnel approaching discharge have an advantage. There is actually a program in place for active members called Benefits Delivery at Discharge. This is often referred to as BDD. You have to apply between 60 and 180 days before your discharge date. The VA expedites these claims and BDD participants are supposed to receive their decision within 60 days of applying. However, the VA does not always meet those deadlines. This plan is far superior to waiting until you receive your discharge. If you wait until discharge, you will have to wait 8-12 months before a decision is made.
- Your location matters. As you may already be aware, each state has its own VA Regional Office. The Regional Office houses the individuals who work on all of the disability claims for the state. Fancy states like Texas have more than one regional office. The Regional Offices process all claims and they decide who gets benefits and who doesn’t. It’s also the place in which hearings are held. So, when our attorneys venture to a regional office to represent a Veteran, it’s reminiscent of the scene in “The Hunger Games” where Katniss breaks into the capital. However, President Snow is a saint compared to the pure evil that exists in the VA. Nerdy references aside, your location makes a huge difference in your case. There are a lot of factors that determine why a state has more Veterans than others. Generally speaking, if you are a Veteran who lives in the North East, or the West (excluding California,) you’re going to have a shorter wait than Veterans who live in the south or the Mid-West. Because of our firms experience with VA Disability, and the fact that we do represent Veterans in all 50 states, we know which Regional Offices have the worst backlog. I don’t really want to bash any office because there are great people working for the VA, and many of them are actually Vets. However, if you live in the city that forgave Lebron James, you’re wait time will not “rock.”
- The further along your case is, the longer the wait is for the next step. This is especially true when you get to the BVA level. I have witnessed a few Veterans wait more than two years for a BVA hearing. Granted, not everyone will have to wait that long, but a BVA wait is often quite lengthy. There are ways to alleviate this. On average, if you request a video hearing over a traveling board or in person hearing, you likely won’t wait as long.
- Do not wait to file an appeal. Here is a situation we see far too often when Veterans come to us for representation. After you file your initial claim, you will receive a decision. You have one year to file that appeal. Do not wait until week 50 to file an appeal. So many Vets come to us just a few weeks before their decision expires. While that May not seem like a big deal, think about this scenario. (Be patient, I am about to do math for the first time since undergrad.) Lets say that you filed your first claim in March of 2013. The VA then decided your case in March of 2014, and you were of course denied. You then have until March of 2015 to file an appeal. If you wait until March of 2015 to file the appeal, you likely won’t receive a decision again until March of 2016. I am going to try to make this a little less convoluted. If you wait the full year to file the appeal, you will only be at the third step of the process, and you’re now already three years into the claim. If you file your appeal in March of 2014 (When you received your initial decision) you will save one whole year. I get it though. I love putting things off, that’s what I have so many cavities. But when someone who procrastinates as much as I do tells you to “get on it,” take my advice.
After all of those negatives, let’s end on a positive note. Stick with your claim. Do not let the frustration get the best of you. I have seen people wait for years and finally get approved. On rare occasions we’ve gotten individuals connected up to 10 years after they filed their initial claim. In fact, I’ve worked in this industry for 5 years now. People I talked to way back in 2011 have received their final decisions. If you feel like this is overwhelming, ask for help. I know this may be hard to believe, but I work with a bunch of people who actually like VA Disability Law. Well, maybe not the law per se. We like working with Veterans. We are passionate about helping Vets. If I’m honest, I personally enjoy talking to those who have served. You won’t find that level of commitment other places. In other words, call me. Tell me your story, and I will let you know what we can do to help. If we can’t help, we’ll be honest with you.
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