By Raymond Taylor
Archuleta County Veterans Service Office
In October, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) began to hire and train new staff to ensure veterans’ claims are adjudicated quickly and help reduce an expected increase in the backlog of claims pending more than 125 days.
The VA is taking the following proactive steps to help in the reduction:
• Hire and train 2,000 new employees to assist in claims processing.
• Utilize funds provided via the American Rescue Plan for overtime to ensure timely claims processing.
• Deploy requested fiscal year 2022 budget resources to support Agent Orange presumptive processing, as well as for general compensation and pension (C&P) claims processing.
As of Oct. 11, there were more than 204,000 backlog claims in an inventory of 603,000 total claims. The VA identified more than 70,000 claims to review for additional entitlement stemming from the presumptive relationship between Agent Orange and Parkinsonism, bladder cancer and hypothyroidism. Many of these were expected to enter the backlog in October, which was projected to reach 260,000 pending claims.
“VA is committed to ensuring timely access to benefits and services for all veterans. This includes making sure veterans who may have experienced adverse health effects from military related exposures can get access to the benefits they need,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “As we process claims such as those for three new disabilities presumptively linked to Agent Orange exposure, including proactive application of Nehmer provisions, as well as three new Gulf War particulate exposure presumptives, we anticipate the claims backlog to increase this fall. The hiring of new employees will help us resolve these claims more quickly.”
Several factors have contributed to the recent backlog. Beginning in March 2020, operational changes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an untimely delay of the Federal Records Centers’ retrieval of documents and suspended compensation and pension examinations. While these actions were necessary to protect the health and safety of employees and veterans, they slowed the processing time for claims. The VA workload has also increased as a result of the aforementioned recent decisions and actions, including a court order mandating the review of previously denied veterans on the basis of qualifying service in the 12 nautical miles surrounding Vietnam.
The backlog has decreased by more than 14,000 claims since the end of August. With continued improvement of the VA’s ability to obtain C&P examinations and federal records, and with all requested resources received, the Veterans Benefits Administration plans to address the impending increase and then further reduce the current claims backlog to 100,000 claims by April 2024.
Don’t forget the new dialing procedures: Effective Oct. 24, to complete all local calls, you will need to dial area code and telephone number. This means 10 digits for local call. This is required due to the new “988” code for National Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Lifeline.
Grant allows Vets4Vets to help local veterans
Vets4Vets of Archuleta County has received a grant from the Colorado Department of Military and Veteran Affairs. This financial grant is to support veterans in our community through the following assistance: housing, utilities, mental health counseling, dental services, travel assistance, automobile repairs, gas and food cards, and emergency veteran assistance.
Contact Vets4Vets at https://vets4vetspsco.org/ or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Veterans: Thank you for your service. Welcome home.
For further information on VA benefits, please call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office (VSO), located at the Pagosa Springs Senior Center in the Ross Aragon Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard.
The office: (970) 264-4013, fax number: (970) 264-4014, and email is email@example.com. Bring your DD Form 214 (discharge) for applications to VA programs or benefits for which the veteran may be entitled to enroll, and for filing in the Archuleta County VSO. Always leave a message and phone number to contact you.
The following veterans groups meet in Pagosa Springs:
• American Legion Post 108: second Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.
• Veterans for Veterans: every Tuesday at 10 a.m., Tennyson Building Event Center, 197 Navajo Trail Drive, on all but the first Tuesday. Breakfast meeting on the first Tuesday of the month at 9 a.m. Contact (970) 799-8387 for more details.
• Combat Veterans PTSD Group: every other Tuesday at noon, Community United Methodist Church, Lewis Street. Contact Gary Hanneman at (970) 946-2540.
• Women’s Group of Spouses of Veterans: first and third Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m., Dr. Carter’s office; contact Charlotte at (970) 903-9690.
• Vets4Vets: (970) 880-VETS, www.Vets4VetsPSCO.org.
• Durango VA Outpatient Clinic: (970) 247-2214.
• Farmington VA Center: (505) 326-4383.
• VAMC Albuquerque, N.M.: (800) 465-8262.
• VA Health Care Emergency Notification: (844) 724-7842.
The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support to veterans in crisis, as well as their family and friends 24/7/365. Call (800) 273-8255, chat online or text 838255.