Waiting for Veteran Disability Benefits – How long does it take?
Learn what you can do to get a faster decision on your Veteran Disability Benefits claim, how to avoid delays in getting medical records, and how the Fully Developed Claim program can speed the process.
It has become a well-known fact that the DVA can take a long time to process claims for Veteran Disability Benefits. The good news is that the DVA has reduced the average amount of time it takes to get a decision on a claim. In 2016, a veteran waited an average of 123 days to hear the results of a claim, way down from the eight-month wait in 2012 and the nearly one year average wait in 2013.
The bad news is, there still can be lengthy delays and the time varies considerably by the location where you file.
Increased media and political attention
Increased media and political scrutiny have prompted calls for improvement. In 2012, a report from the Center for Investigative Reporting publicized the shameful delays that the DVA was subjecting disabled veterans to. Even then, the problem got worse before it slowly got better. For its part, the DVA pointed to the ballooning number of claims from Afghanistan and Iraq vets, on top of vets from the Vietnam War era who are filling new claims.
Current DVA policy states that it aims to issue a decision on a claim within 125 days of submission. Any claim taking longer than 125 days for a decision is considered to be “backlogged.”
In 2013, the DVA backlog peaked at 611,000 claims sitting longer than 125 days for a decision. By 2015, the backlog was down to less than 100,000 claims. Today, about 70-80,000 claims are backlogged.
Wait time varies by region
The DVA has created a National Work Queue process that’s intended to even out some of the varied wait times by region. However, in practice, regions still vary considerably.
According to data tracked by the Center for Investigative Reporting, in 2015, the average wait time for a claim decision was as high as 149 days in Baltimore, 146 days in Reno, and 139 days in Chicago; while the average wait was only 127 days in Indianapolis and Boston, and only 108 days in Phoenix.
Gathering medical records can cause delays
Some delays can be caused by problems the DVA has in sharing medical records with the DOD and medical providers. The DVA is also trying to streamline the use of electronic records sharing between the parties involved in establishing a veteran’s claim. In these cases, vets can help obtain any records themselves, or to be sure to start the process right away. It might be faster for you to just obtain certified paper records yourself, if that’s possible for what you need.
What can you do?
While some of the delay problem may be out of your control, you can still do everything you possibly can to speed up the process from your end. When you apply, secure all of the required evidence in the desired format. Check and double-check that any records you request are sent and received where they need to be. Continually follow-up with your doctor’s office and the VA, and your agent, if you have one, to make sure everything is moving along with your application.
The DVA has created a Fully Developed Claim program that can allow you to speed up the time it takes to process your claim for veterans disability benefits. The program helps guide you on how to provide all of the relevant information in precisely the correct form that the DVA needs to process it. You do your part by getting hold of the necessary records yourself and sending them to the VA. This can expedite the evaluation of your claim. If you file a Standard Claim, the VA is responsible for getting relevant documents and this can cause delays.
The VA encourages veterans to take advantage of assistance in filing their claims. See Veterans Disability Benefits-How do I apply? for additional information.
It is very important that you do everything you can to file a complete application. If there is an error or missing information that leads to an initial denial, appeals can take even longer. Some vets who appeal a denied claim can years for a resolution.
The best you can do in the face of inevitable delays is to stay on top of your claim at all times and get qualified assistance.