A VA Tech Issue Caused 57,000 Disability Claims to Vanish. What Happened?
Last month, tens of thousands of veterans received surprise letters from the VA informing them that a disability claim they made at some unspecified point in the past was not processed.
The letter read in part, “The Department of Veterans Affairs is sending this letter in response to an issue identified which may have resulted in a failure to establish a claim based on your past submission through…VA.gov.”
The vague wording of the letter left many veterans to speculate on what claim the letter referenced, if they had done something wrong, and, most importantly, how much disability compensation they might have missed out on.
It turns out that nearly 57,000 veterans who filed an online request to add or remove a dependent spouse, child or parent to their VA disability benefits since 2011 did not have their claims processed due to a technical glitch, according to Military.com.
The VA has vowed a full review of VA.gov’s online claims processing systems, and has assured underpaid veterans that they’ll receive the full backdated benefits they earned.
That would have been the end of the story if this incident wasn’t one in a larger wave of IT mishaps that Military.com has identified as impacting veterans seeking disability compensation.
Tech glitches shouldn’t stand in the way of veterans getting the support they deserve. In this article we explain the recent issues and talk about ways you can safeguard your benefits amid the VA’s ongoing tech woes.
First, let’s take a closer look at the add/remove dependents glitch that surfaced back in September.
Add/Remove Dependents Glitch and VA Backpay
Veterans with a disability rating of 30% or higher are entitled to additional compensation for dependents, such as a spouse, child, or dependent parent. Over 570,000 eligible veterans have updated their dependents online since VA.gov rolled out the feature in 2011. To put this into perspective, of those half a million dependent claims, 10% fell through the cracks.
That may sound like a high failure rate, and it is. But it’s worth pointing out that some of the 56,000+ veterans actually tried to remove a dependent and it wasn’t processed, so they’ve been getting overpaid all this time. Rest assured that if this was the case for you, the VA is not going to try to get that money back.
For those who missed out on the additional compensation they were entitled to, the silver lining is VA backpay. For example, Mark, a veteran with a 70% disability rating for PTSD and sleep apnea has a monthly disability compensation of $1663. Back in 2013, he added a dependent child and spouse to his disability profile, making him eligible for an additional $244 a month (in 2022 dollars). Ten years later, that modest increase amounts to nearly $3,000 a year in missed benefits.
More IT Troubles at the VA
The discovery of the dependents glitch happened while the VA was trying to fix another glitch that prevented nearly a thousand veterans from filing an online PACT Act claim by the filing deadline, according to Military.com.
Federal News Network also reports that 900 veterans were prevented from submitting a claim appeal through VA.gov. Those veterans couldn’t load the “notice of disagreement” form to start the appeal process. (The bug was patched on September 1 of this year.)
It is encouraging to see the VA owning up to these mistakes and taking prompt actions to correct them by extending deadlines and paying affected retroactive benefits. However, some issues with the way the VA currently processes claims have a less clear-cut solution.
PACT Act-Related Hypertension Claims Not Paying Out
The PACT Act unlocked disability benefits for a large number of veterans with debilitating conditions related to burn pits and Agent Orange. The law was rightly seen as a breakthrough for veterans suffering from toxic exposure claims. The PACT Act streamlined the process, granting presumptive benefits for those who had long been denied them.
But while hundreds of thousands of veterans have successfully filed claims since the PACT Act took effect in 2022, Military.com reports that 1 in 3 PACT Act claims have received a 0% disability rating.
The discrepancy comes down to how the VA processes hypertension (aka high blood pressure) claims. Of the 570,000 claims filed under the PACT Act since 2022, 82% of hypertension claims have received a 0% rating. The 0% rating is given to veterans with high blood pressure that is considered “medically controlled.” In other words, it can be treated with medication without severely impacting the veteran’s health.
This didn’t sit right with some veterans’ advocates, including those who fought to make hypertension a presumptive Agent Orange condition.
In response to the pushback from veterans’ advocates, the VA is now reviewing their procedures for paying out hypertension claims. In the meantime, veterans don’t have to wait around to receive benefits for their PACT Act-related claims.
Hypertension affects a person’s overall health in many adverse ways. It can be used to “service-connect” other serious conditions, like heart disease or a stroke. This is one way an experienced VA claims agent can help veterans get the benefits they’ve earned.
To learn more about Agent Orange conditions and VA compensation, please have a look at our comprehensive and up to date Latest News on Agent Orange Compensation: PACT Act Edition.
Safeguard Your Disability Benefits by Getting Professional Claims Attention
The VA says they’ll automatically compensate veterans whose claims weren’t processed, but we think it’s wise to also get a professional claims agent to independently review your file, free of charge.
Here at the Rep For Vets, we fight to get disabled veterans and their dependents the compensation they earned when they signed up to serve. Our VA-accredited claims agents will meticulously review your file, looking for VA errors and generally ensuring you’re not leaving any disability compensation on the table.
Whether it’s appealing a rejected claim, reopening a claim due to worsened conditions, or navigating the complexities of backpay, our team is here to provide guidance and support.
If you believe you may be owed backpay or need assistance with your appeal, call us at (888) 573-7838 for a free consultation. We are dedicated to advocating for veterans. This is what we do, this is all we do. We look forward to learning about your unique experience and helping out in any way we can.