Friday, March 27, 2015
This week the Department of Veterans Affairs dramatically changed the rules for filing new claims and appealing decisions of the VA. On March 24th the VA implemented a new rule that prohibits veterans from filing what had been referred to as an “informal claim.” An informal claim allowed a veteran to file a claim by merely sending the VA a letter or any other communication that was enough to put the VA on notice that the veteran wanted to begin the claims process. Admittedly, this process was very veteran-friendly because the burden was on the VA to liberally read and review what a veteran sent in to determine if a claim was being filed. The effective date of the claim was the date the informal claim was filed.
The new rules require that a veteran file claims and appeals on special forms the VA has created for these purposes. Claims or appeals sent in any other fashion will not be considered. (See 38 CFR 3.155 – 38 CFR 3.157 is no longer in effect and has been repealed).
Interestingly, the head of the Compensation and Pension Service, Thomas Murphy, told Stars & Stripes in an interview that very few veterans would be affected by this change. However, Stars & Stripes reports that the information the VA gave to Congress to advocate for this change in the rules in fact shows that about one half of the claims filed have been through the informal claims process. The report notes “If the VA numbers in the Federal Registry are correct, hundreds of thousands of veterans have been filing informal claims and appeals each year.” That is a lot of veterans who will need to now understand the new rules or suffer the consequences. A heavy push is also being made to get veterans to file these claims electronically, which for our older veterans would be a truly difficult exercise since many do not use computers extensively. There are legal challenges in the works to these changes in the rules challenging the legality of the changes and arguing that these changes are certainly not in keeping with the VA’s “pro-veteran” stance. Keep your eyes open for the challenges and we will post about them here.
To read the Stars & Stripes article click here: http://www.stripes.com/news/veterans/va-grossly-underestimates-paper-claims-as-new-forms-policy-begins-1.336579