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New VA program could speed up appeals for veterans' disability

The Rapid Appeals Modernization Program launched recently by the Department of Veterans Affairs could end the prolonged delays inflicted on veterans appealing a denial of benefits. Currently, about 340,000 cases, including some from West Virginia, have stalled within the agency, but legislative reforms have prompted the VA to reduce wait times. In a trial run for the new program, case processing averaged 37 days whereas the traditional appeals system imposed waits in excess of 1,500 days. Among the cases reviewed under the new approach, 61 percent of veterans succeeded in their appeals, which represented an improvement upon the 25 percent success rate experienced within the old system.

VA officials have said they will increase public outreach to attract more veterans to the reformed system. Many veterans, however, appear reluctant to try the fast-track appeals system. Fear of starting a new appeal could be holding people back because they must withdraw their pending cases. Starting fresh might mean another lengthy wait even though the agency has pledged to address its backlog.

Despite concerns about the reforms meeting the goals of Congress and the VA, the chance to get an appeal quickly during the testing phase could help some veterans. The organization Disabled American Veterans has endorsed the project.

To launch a new appeal, veterans must organize their evidence for review by adjudicators. A person preparing to engage with a bureaucratic system might benefit from legal representation. An attorney familiar with veterans' issues may help organize evidence, fill out applications and communicate directly with federal agencies. These services might be especially helpful to people suffering from physical or mental disabilities. An attorney may also be able to guide a person through the process of simultaneously approaching the VA and the Social Security Administration when pursuing disability benefits.

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