In the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced an abrupt end to its decades-old policy of allowing veterans’ advocates to review proposed benefit decisions for the veterans we represent. For the VFW, this dubious policy change will have dire consequences for the veterans we serve, further eroding their rights to representation when seeking benefits and sewing mistrust with the VA system.
The policy dates back to 1957 and offers advocates two business days to provide an independent quality check on VA decisions, helping veterans receive accurate benefits the first time. Every year, the VFW catches errors in up to seven percent of all the ratings we review, often fixing them before they reach the veteran. On April 24, VA wants this to stop.
In explaining the abrupt change, VA wrote that our independent review was obsolete because of the “feedback loop” to fix errors through the Appeals Modernization Act. However, this so-called “feedback loop” means that veterans first receive bad rating decisions, then must recognize any errors and fill out more bureaucratic paperwork to try to get it fixed. For decades, we have been able to fix problems upfront to the benefit of both our veterans and VA.
In Minnesota, our service officer Jon Gohn and his dedicated staff have found numerous errors in an initial review of claims. Many times, these reviews allowed for effective dates on claims to go back substantially further than initially proposed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. They have meticulously scrutinized Blue Water Navy ratings in particular, and one claim, in particular, was able to go back 12 years earlier than the VA proposed.
We cannot allow VA to go through with this. Now more than ever, VA has an obligation to serve the needs of veterans – not bureaucrats. VA must listen to experienced groups like the VFW. Our veterans are counting on it.