Processing Milestone Allows VA to Refocus on Claims Backlog
The VA’s claims system will soon be getting up to speed as it clears the gridlock of nearly 230,000 claims related to the three newest Agent Orange-related presumptive service-connected illnesses of ischemic heart disease, hairy cell and other chronic B-cell leukemia and Parkinson’s disease. The completion of work on the claims means that 1,200 senior claims representatives dedicated to review the Agent Orange claims can now be reassigned to tackle the current backlog of other disability claims.
The VA announced it was nearing completion of the Agent Orange-related claims which had been assigned to about 37 percent of its rating staff. The VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration had set up 13 resource centers exclusively dedicated to deciding these claims.
“We are very pleased the VA is nearing the end of a massive endeavor to give justice to our veterans suffering from these three presumptive service-connected diseases,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Barry Jesinoski. “The VA dedicated its most senior claims workers to complete the task of fulfilling the promises made to the men and women who served.”
Among the cases were more than 150,000 complex claims that required review under a U.S. District Court order. These so-called Nehmer claims cases had been denied before the VA decision to award presumptive service-connection for the three illnesses due to Agent Orange exposure.
“As a result of the VA’s diligence, all of the Agent Orange Nehmer claims for living veterans have been completed, and there are fewer than 500 remaining claims that benefit survivors,” said Jesinoski. “Now these skilled VA raters can direct their talents to reducing the huge backlog of claims pending.”
The Agent Orange claims originated from a 2010 VA amendment to its regulations to add the three diseases to the list of those presumed to be related to exposure to the herbicide. It affected Vietnam veterans who served between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975. It also included Korean veterans exposed to Agent Orange along the demilitarized zone between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971 and service members exposed to herbicide tests and storage at military bases within and outside the United States.