Competent Representation for Veterans Benefits Ended Abruptly By the VAWednesday, April 8, 2020
For decades, service representatives across the country such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars have been fighting for fair benefits for veterans. The Veterans of Foreign Wars employs over 300 representatives across the country that review benefits decisions for accuracy before the decisions are finalized and passed along to veterans.
Last week, Paul Lawrence, the VA undersecretary of benefits, announced that these reviews would no longer happen, effective by the end of April. Understandably, the decision sparked a wave of protest by veterans’ representative groups.
Ryan Gallucci, a director at the VFW’s office in Washington, stated that “this is a last-chance quality review,” “we raised our concerns and said we’d really appreciate the ability to demonstrate why it’s so important, but he [Paul Lawrence] said his mind was made up. This was happening, whether we agreed or not.”
The VA manual outlines that accredited representatives have two days to make the reviews. These reviews directly impact the level of compensation and other benefits that go to the veterans. Inadvertent errors are uncovered during this process that can save veterans from having to file appeals or request VA reviews. This is a big reason why many think this decision to end representative reviews will lead to an enormous amount of paperwork for the VA. According to Gallucci, VFW representatives find errors in 5% to 7% of claims. “The VA is shifting the burden to veterans to discover its errors,” he said.
The sudden change is “inconceivable” to VFW National Commander William Schmitz, arguing that the change would erode the rights of competent representation in benefits for veterans. The group also questioned the timing of the change being that it is during global pandemic.
“The VA has had a difficult history of earning and maintaining the trust of its veterans, service members and families,” Schmitz said. “Making this change in the midst of a national pandemic is extremely troublesome and is just the latest example of distrust and lack of confidence in our VA to make our veterans its number one priority.”
The VA claims that the change was made because online claim systems have made the process obsolete, a view obviously not shared by veteran representative groups. The crucial aspect of this decision is the fact that veterans will not be able to appeal their benefits decisions until they are set in stone, which will likely lead to a backlog of claims at the VA.