One of the most discussed issues with respect to veterans’ services today is the claims backlog. It is a national issue, and one that has received national coverage, but for the veterans in Nevada it also is a local issue. While the Nevada Office of Veterans Services is not involved in reviewing and rating the claims that are currently in the backlog, we are dedicated to doing whatever we can to assist in addressing this problem for our veterans.
Simply put, the backlog consists of the numerous claims made by veterans that are awaiting review and rating by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. These claims could be delayed for one of many reasons, including the requirement for more medical information on the part of the veteran pursuing the claim, the number of new claims being filed each day, and various other reasons. The Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Reno, which serves as the benefits office for the veterans in Nevada, is facing a backlog of approximately 10,000 claims and is actively addressing the issue.
As I mentioned above, the backlog is a national issue, and one that is brought on by many complex reasons, many of which come down to the VA trying to do the right thing for the veterans it serves. First, was the recent decision to create the Agent Orange presumptive for those who served in Vietnam, essentially meaning that veterans from this era with certain conditions will be presumed to have a service-connected disability, and therefore, receive treatment for the condition through the VA health system.
Second is that America has been involved in two wars for the last decade, and that more veterans have been seeking assistance from the VA. Finally, the VA has increased its outreach initiatives in recent years, meaning that more veterans are aware of the services that they provide and seeking their assistance in obtaining them. While most would agree that these conditions and others amount to positive efforts, they have created extraordinary demand for VA services over recent years.
This demand has been felt acutely around the country, and in Nevada as well. Our office has been working on this, ensuring that our service officers are filing fully developed claims, increasing training for our advocates, and otherwise supporting our federal partners in whatever way we can. On April 18 of this year, most of Nevada’s federal delegation wrote a letter to Allison Hickey, the VA’s Under Secretary for Benefits, offering help in addressing the backlog issue in our state. This letter brought a lot of attention to the challenges that the VA Regional Office in Reno is facing, and started a broader conversation among many about what could be done to assist.
The next day, the federal VA said it would expedite claims in the short term and in the long term. First, because of the local backlog, the VA shifted the oldest claims to other locations where they could be rated more quickly. Secretary Eric Shinseki also announced that the federal VA would start providing provisional ratings for the oldest claims in its backlog, meaning that the veteran will receive a rating based on the evidence that has already been provided, and that might increase with a final rating once all of the evidence is provided. Both measures, and others, will result in a reduction of the backlog, and also, getting payments to the veterans who are waiting for them more quickly.
I had the opportunity to speak with both the Director of the VA Regional Office and the Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey last week on these issues. While we all acknowledged the difficulty of the task facing them, there also was agreement on the fact that we all had to continue to work as hard as we can to ensure that the needs of Nevada’s veterans are met. In both conversations, I offered our services, whether it was through volunteering, providing feedback, or whatever resources that we could provide. This is an important commitment to make to our veterans, and the Nevada Office of Veterans Services will do everything it can to ensure that this is addressed as quickly as possible.
Caleb S. Cage is the executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. You can read his blog at http://veterans.nv.gov/blog.