For the past year, the world has learned how a small virus can completely alter our daily lives and have a negative impact every business, government organization, and even schools. We as a veteran community have not been sparred by the negative impacts of this virus either. We have not been able to access the things that make us some of comfortable and allow us to function in society in the best of times. Without these resources, we have had to rely on each other to stay positive and keep moving forward as we wait for our turn to be vaccinated. Working with many of you, I also know that the slowing of the VA processes due to the pandemic has caused some of you more stress. Once, I can explain why the process has slowed I am able to alleviate most of the stress for our veterans. However, without any messaging from the VA as to why the processes have been negatively impacted, I am going to try my best.
When a veteran submits an original claim for compensation to the VA, the first steps that the VA takes are to first verify the claimant’s veteran status and request the veteran’s service treatment records (STR’s) and personnel records (for PTSD claims and verify service in Vietnam) from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). Here the veteran’s records are located, scanned, and then digitally sent to the VA. However, because of the pandemic only a skeleton crew is working at the facility and they have been directed to focus on locating DD-214’s for our recently deceased veterans so that they can receive the burial services that they are entitled to during this pandemic. The lack of staff on hand has made it difficult to meet the continual demand for records.
Now you may be saying to yourself I am already service-connected, and I am just waiting for the VA to schedule me for an exam. With each surge in this pandemic the VA has been forced to stop scheduling in-person appointments that are not critical to the veteran’s health. Unfortunately, the VA deemed that an examination for compensation was not critical to the veteran’s health and have put scheduling these exams on hold multiple times without notifying the public. When possible, they have been scheduling exams that can be conducted virtually or over the phone, however most physical ailments need an in-person evaluation. Slowly, the VA begins ordering exams as the conditions become safer and the backlog of claims begins moving again.
The pandemic has also made an already lengthy appeals process take much longer. Without the ability to travel during the different surges in the pandemic, many hearings were put on hold, while some have been heard virtually. I have been informing all veterans who are currently remaining in the legacy appeals process to accept the virtual hearing option if given the opportunity because it will help your appeal be decided quicker and the experience is quite positive I have been told.
As we move forward with getting everyone vaccinated and we return to a more “normal” way of life, the processes of the VA will once again return to normal. However, as we move through this experience understand that time is on your side during the VA claims process. If we submit everything the VA requests of us in a timely manner, our date of claim will remain effective no matter how long the process plays out.
David West is the Nevada County Veterans Service Officer. Reach him at (530) 265-1446 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Nevada County Veteran’s Services Office, 988 McCourtney Rd, Grass Valley, CA, is open from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.