In December of 2021, the Department of Veterans Affairs launched a pilot project that would work to automate part of the process that they use to review benefits claims.
The move was made because the VA claimed that they had the potential to shorten the time that it takes for Veterans to hear back on a decision, from 100 days to one or two days.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough has described the project as an “exciting new offer” and his hope is that this will “significantly reduce” the amount of time that it takes to process Veterans’ claims.
The VA has also created a new team to handle the project – the Office of Automated Benefit Delivery.
The agency is already amid a surge in backlogged benefit claims – as of Tuesday, January 18th, 2022, the VA had roughly 260,000 backlogged claims, up 60,000 from this past October. The VA has said that they consider ‘backlogged’ claims to be any that have been within their system for more than 125 consecutive days without being processed.
As of right now, the automation has been applied to applications for increased disability ratings for service-related cases of hypertension only, being handled by the VA benefits office in Boise, Idaho.
How Does This Process Work?
Great question! Underneath this new program, an algorithm will actively pull data from the Veterans Health Administration about Veterans, inclusive of any military service, claims history, and their medical treatment. If they find enough medical evidence in the system, the automated process will populate a proposed rating decision.
If they cannot find a sufficient amount of information, the automation will request that the Veteran undergo a compensation and pension exam. From there, all information will be compiled and sent out to a VA employee whose job it is to rate the benefit claim(s) – these employees will end up making the final decision.
“It’s truly demonstrating how we can systematically validate the information and provide that information to our employees, while they still maintain the full adjudicative discretion,” said Rob Reynolds, the VA’s Acting Deputy Undersecretary for the new Office of Automated Benefit Delivery.
As we noted earlier on in this blog post, the average time that it takes to decide on a claim will be severely shortened due to this change – the longest it will hopefully take going forward would be 18 days, and that’d only be necessary if a Veteran is asked to take a C&P exam.
“Blue Water”, Asthma, & The VA’s Next Steps
In 2021, the VA saw 60,000 claims from “Blue Water” Veterans, those who proudly served offshore during the Vietnam War. These Veterans claim that they were exposed to the chemical herbicide known as Agent Orange. The VA and Congress have recently granted them a path to being able to obtain benefits and seek out treatment for their illness(es).
Roughly 89,000 claims have been submitted to the VA for bladder cancer, hyperthyroidism, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms, and over 20,000 claims have been submitted for asthma, rhinitis, and/or sinusitis from Veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits.
The VA has stated that they’ll be hiring 2,094 claims processors. As of Tuesday, over 1,000 have been successfully hired and the rest will be hired by the spring of 2022.