On January 27, 2016, VA Secretary McDonald released a statement regarding the need to reform the appeals process for benefits under Title 38. His statement can be downloaded at the following link:
My takeaway: (1) this is the closest the VA has come to acknowledging that the agency push to handle initial claims more expeditiously has created a huge backlog within the VA appellate system by re-distributing personnel, focus, and resources; (2) this is the first time the VA has provided a timeline on appeal (“average of three years”) that is consistent with current processing times; (3) Secretary McDonald acknowledges that simply enhancing and upgrading the VBA’s technological capabilities is not sufficient to remedy the immediate and future appeals timeline; and (4) Secretary McDonald correctly acknowledges Congress’s assistance (modifying statutory provisions) will likely be required to provide adequate remedial measures to the administrative process.
In a prior blog a year ago (link below) I commented on the need for statutory change: “I appreciate that Title 38 was created (and modified in 1962) to provide robust, multi-tiered level of appellate review. This approach, however, is becoming a hindrance rather than benefit to both veterans and the VA. At the macro-level (i.e. not my client) it has helped create issues with agency legitimacy (how veterans perceive the Department of Veterans Affairs) and I suspect organizational psychology (how VA employees perceive their workplace environment). I realize my suggested solution is a radical departure from the existing appeals process and will create its own logistical issues; however, with the military downsizing after fifteen years of active-combat operations and a generation of Vietnam veterans reaching the age of 65 and over, these issues will become more acute if not addressed now.”
While I highly doubt any of my suggestions will be the course of action taken, the following were my recommendations a year ago: “(1) promulgate a regulatory provision that specifically address requests to expedite due to hardship, age, and/or severe medical illness at the Regional Office level (Agency of Original Jurisdiction); (2) eliminate appellate review at the Regional Office level [appreciating this would require a statutory change]; (3) decentralize components of the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) and have standing Veteran Law Judges (VLJs) co-located at the various Regional Offices that handle direct appeals to the BVA from initial rating decisions [understanding this will require additional staffing at the BVA, but eliminate travel/per diem costs with infrastructure costs already in place]; (4) to the extent the Agency feels it necessary to permit “appeal” to the Regional Office, promulgate a statutory provision that codifies the now-present ad hoc “request for reconsideration” as a discretionary form of review; (5) codify a general timeline for appeals/”reconsideration” processing with contact to the VA Office of Case Management if it exceeds that period of time.”
Prior blog at: