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Veterans Denied Benefits After Missing VA Exams Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the nation in March, the VA was still instructing veterans to report to mandatory physical exams when in many cases, this would have put them at risk as the coronavirus crisis worsened in cities across the United States. It was not until April 3rd that the VA ordered in-person benefits exams be cancelled due to health risks because of the pandemic. At that time, the VA website stated that “We won’t deny a claim solely for failure to report for an exam at this time,” a claim that was not upheld in the months that followed.

Benjamin Juarez, a United States Marine Corps Veteran, received a denial letter from the VA that specifically cited his failure to attend his required VA exam. “I missed it because they told me not to attend it,” Juarez said. His exam was scheduled with a medical contractor in April, according to his medical records he shared with KARE 11 in Minnesota.

Juarez is not alone. According to congressional staffers, 18,000 claims were denied because of missed exams since the start of the pandemic. However, Randal Noller, the VA spokesperson, claims that not all of these claims were denied because of missed exams.

Many veteran advocate groups are claiming that the confusion and errors stem from the recent VA decision to end the 48 hour review process in April. This process was crucial and allowed accredited veteran service representatives 48 hours to review benefits decisions before they were finalized.

Ron Quade, the Director of Claims and Field Operations for the Minnesota Dept. of Veterans Affairs, said that “the 48 review is extremely important.” He went on to say that “on a regular basis we find even simple errors that we can help the VA with.”

Prior to the decision to end the review process, veterans advocate groups warned the VA of the delays and confusions that would come if the process was ended. Despite a letter directly to President Trump from the VSO, the decision was made to end the process.

Members on both sides of the aisle expressed dismay over the wrongful denials exposed by these reports and democratic senators introduced legislation to restore the review process with a bill headed by Senator Joe Manchin. The VA itself has launched a review of all benefit claims denied during the pandemic based on the veteran missing an exam. According to Noller, “This is a priority for the VBA and we are working to get it done as quickly as possible.”

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