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VA Broke Its Promises, Court Says

Posted on in Uncategorized

Recently, a Federal Circuit Court judge chastised the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for allowing the agency's Board of Veterans' Appeals to continue to use a disputed procedural rule in hearings – despite the VA's expressed promise to no longer employ the rule.

Specifically, the rule in question – which was not supposed to used – limited certain due process rights for veterans seeking benefits before the Board of Veterans' Appeals. The court found the continued application of this rule so egregious that it believes sanctions may be appropriate. Furthermore, the court ordered the government to now show cause why sanctions should not be enforced against the responsible officials.

Due process rights in VA benefits process

The veterans' benefits system in the United States was supposed to be designed to be very veteran-friendly. In fact, various procedural due process and appellate rights are afforded to veterans seeking benefits.

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Recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that it has been making headway at reducing the overwhelming backlog of veterans' disability claims. Indeed, the agency reported that they number of backlogged disability claims – specifically, the claims pending more than 125 days – has dropped nearly 20 percent from its highest point roughly four months ago.

However, while this drop likely comes as welcomed news to those waiting for disability benefits, critics are still concerned that it is still not enough. Even President Obama conceded as much in a recent speech at the Disabled American Veterans' convention when he stated, 'Today, I can report that we are not where we need to be, but we're making progress.'

For instance, despite the recent 20 percent drop in backlogged disability claims, there are still nearly 500,000 claims that have been pending more than 125 days – with total claims sitting at 773,000, according to the VA. And, it is numbers such as these have prompted veterans groups to take additional action. Recently, a petition submitted by the group Concerned Veterans for America, and signed by 26,000 veterans, was sent to the White House calling for an end to this backlog.

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A new U.S. Senate subcommittee report raises serious concerns about the quality of decision making on applications for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. The findings underscore the need for an applicant to have an experienced advocate at every stage of the process. A knowledgeable SSDI attorney can act as his or her client's watchdog before the Social Security Administration, or SSA, by looking at whether the agency is appropriately developing and evaluating the claim for disability insurance.

The SSDI Program

SSDI is a federal program that provides monthly payments to people disabled from working by physical or mental impairments, or combinations of impairments, that will either prevent them from working for at least a year or result in death. An eligible claimant must also meet certain detailed financial requirements that basically ask whether he or she has worked fairly recently and been employed on a mostly regular basis over the years.

SSDI by the Numbers

According to the Associated Press, roughly 11 million beneficiaries get monthly SSDI benefits of slightly under $1,000 monthly on average. Problematically in a time of tight budgets, the SSDI rolls have increased almost 25 percent in the past five years. Apparently, this type of increase is consistent with previous patterns in comparably tough economic times.

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As anyone who is unable to work due to a disability can attest to, the importance of Social Security disability (SSD) benefits cannot be overstated. This federal safety net can often be the sole source of monthly income for those who simply cannot hold a job because of their disability – whether physical or mental.

In fact, according to the 2011 Annual Statistical Report on Social Security Disability Insurance Program – which is the most recent report available – there were 626,954 Social Security disability beneficiaries in Texas alone in 2011. Of these, 595,925 were between the ages of 18 and 64 – which represents roughly 3.7 percent of the total population in Texas.

Given the extreme importance of SSD benefits to such a large population of Texans, the recent discussion among federal lawmakers to link Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) to the chained consumer price index (CPI) – which would result in smaller cost-of-living adjustments – may be cause for concern among disabled workers.

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With the recent conclusion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many soldiers are finally returning home to their families. The time apart can strain many families, and make it difficult for everyone to adjust once they are together again.

However, this is not the only struggle that veterans face when their service time is over. Many soldiers that have served in war zones often end up injured in these conflicts and some of these injuries can have a life-long impact. These veterans will need to file for veterans disability benefits, and many are surprised to find out how long the process can take.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the agency that handles the requests for disability benefits. The wait time for these claims has been increasing dramatically. Since October of 2011, the average wait for the processing of claims has rise from 223 to 262, according to a recent VA report.

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