A new initiative to reduce the mountainous backlog of disability claims has the VA partnering with the American Bar Association (ABA). Secretary Shinseki said, “[e]nding the backlog is an ‘all hands on deck’ effort that requires teamwork, both in and out of government.” The partnering program also includes the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).
The idea is that the ABA and LSC attorneys, who are working on a pro bono basis, will help gather evidence to fully develop the claims, thus reducing VA effort, and – therefore – the time in the bureaucracy.
ABA President Laurel Bellows said, “The ABA is proud to take the lead in connecting veterans with pro bono attorneys who will help them receive the aid our nation owes them for their selfless courage.” President Bellows went on to say, “we hope that our initial focus on Chicago and St. Petersburg can swiftly be expanded across the nation.” The VA claims the backlog for initial claims past the 125 day threshold has been reduced by 18%. The VA stated goal is to eliminate the claims backlog by 2015.
This is an ironic move from the VA, because in the past the VA has actively tried to exclude lawyers from the business within the VA. For example, the VA Attorney General recently promulgated an opinion which said, in effect, that an attorney cannot work on a veteran’s case with a certified VA representative who is a paralegal or legal assistant in the same firm. This makes absolutely no sense, because one would think that having a certified representative working on a case with an attorney would be a very fruitful. However, the VA is trying to increase difficulty in obtaining an attorney despite the rhetoric that the backlog is “an ‘all hands on deck,'” philosophy.
This is merely a talking point from the VA. If the VA truly wanted assistance in ending the veterans disability claims backlog, then it would not severely limit a veteran’s right to hire counsel both in the initial claim stage and appellate stage.
Do not expect this partnership to move cases forward any faster until major and significant reforms about representation at all levels of the claims process are answered. This means allowing veterans to exercise a right to association and counsel. This is nothing more than a kind of propaganda the VA is using to try to show effort at reducing the backlog without discussing the significant effort to reduce the VA appeals process. If the VA would allow lawyers to represent veterans as part of a lawyers normal course of business, then one could comfortably say that the VA is authentic in its desire to reduce the backlog. However, the VA is far from giving veterans freedom to hire an attorney for initial claims, so the announcement should be taken at face value, which is next to nothing.
If you need assistance with a VA benefits claim or appeal of a VA claim decision, we are here to help. Call Bosley & Bratch at (800) 953-6224 or complete our free veterans benefits case evaluation form.