The amount of time that it takes for the VA to decide an appeal leaves many veterans feeling hopeless about moving their claims forward. The VA provides several criteria that allow veterans claims to be expedited. Further there is are avenues outside the VA that can get eyes on a file within the VA.
How does the VA view claims and why is it important that veterans think that way too?
As we discussed in a prior blog post, the VA has quite the backlog, and as a result, wait times depend largely on what Regional Office is processing the claim and the type of appeal. Many veterans rightfully feel abandoned when they look at their claim from the perspective of the date of filing. However, that is not necessarily how the VA views the appeals process. The VA’s calendar looks at claims from when it made its last decision on a claim or when it received a notice of appeal. When veterans view claims from this point of view they focus on where their claim is in the process and what they can do to get the claim/appeal moving.
How can claims be expedited through the VA?
The VA acknowledges four main ways of expediting a claim: terminal illness, ALS, age, and financial hardship. For the first three, terminal illness, ALS and age, a simple letter to the VA asking for a claim to be expedited will suffice to put the VA on notice and get the claim expedited. Financial hardship is another beast in itself. To receive financial hardship expedition veterans need to file a VA Form 21-5655 (declaration of Financial Hardship). Along with this form, veterans may submit any past due utility bills, eviction notices, and credit card or medical bills. The VA makes a determination as to whether the veteran qualifies for expedition due to financial hardship so it is important to provide evidence of the hardship and follow up with the VA.
How can I get my claim expedited outside the VA?
The VA system is not the only avenue for expediting claims. Contacting congressmen and senators may be helpful in getting claims expedited. Veterans who do this will usually receive a letter sent to the congressman or senator’s office detailing where their claim is in the process. This accomplishes the goal of getting eyes on the file as someone must pull the file and document the claim status. It may appear like any other letter received from the VA and may make some veterans feel like nothing is accomplished. However, the letter from the congressman goes into the evidence of record which is important as a note in the delay the claim is taking. The contact with the congressman or senator also has the added benefit of getting files flagged with “Congressional Inquiry” if multiple requests are submitted. It is important for veterans to follow up regularly with the congressman or senator to make sure their claim is receiving adequate attention.
Can federal courts help?
In some limited circumstances when the delay in processing the appeal is egregious, the veteran may petition the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) for a Writ of Mandamus. In this instance, the petition is filed with the CAVC and the VA’s attorneys at the Office of General Counsel (OGC) must respond to the petition. If the veteran is successful, the CAVC will order the VA to take action on the claim.
Regardless of which avenue a veteran takes to try to get a claim expedited, an expeditious decision is not always a correct decision and some veterans with expedited claims find that the appeal must continue past the expedited decision on their claims. However, perseverance often pays off in the long-run.