• Veterans left in limbo, waiting years only to have their VA disability claims denied

    By: Paige Kelton , Action News Jax

    Updated:

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - On Monday the Veterans Administration will implement the Veterans Modernization Act. It’s an effort by the agency to shorten the time it takes for VA disability claims to be resolved.

    Local Marine veteran Sean Kelly is skeptical. When asked to describe the appeals, process Kelly responded, “It's pretty bad." 

    Kelly served in Iraq as a machine gun section leader for the 1st Battalion, 9th marines, Charlie Company. 

    We first introduced you to him in 2017.

    STORY: Veterans denied benefits for what they call vaccine-related injuries

    He was diagnosed with Pericarditis, inflammation of the heart, a documented side effect of the smallpox vaccine.

    Kelly couldn't work. He filed for VA benefits for a vaccine-related injury and was denied. When asked how long he has been appealing, Kelly answered, “Three and a half year." 
     
    Action News Jax spoke with Kelly about the VA’s new streamlined appeals process.

    The VA wants to cut the appeals process from the current three to seven years, down to one year or less.

    Starting Monday, February 19, veterans who are denied benefits will be offered three choices.

    The first is called higher review, which means the application gets a second look.

    The second option is called supplemental and vets can submit more documentation.  

    The VA hopes to complete both of those options in an average of 125 days.

    The third option is to appeal directly to the VA Board of Veterans Appeals. The average goal wait time is 365 days or less.

    "We really think this will be a better system and will be able to adjudicate quicker. We have added more personnel this year and we’ve increased technology," said Cheryl Mason, chair of the VA Board of Veterans Appeals.

    Action News Jax told Mason many local veterans believe the VA rubber stamps denials on the first pass, Mason’s responded, “That is not what we do, the VA takes a look at the evidence and applies the law to that evidence."

    The agency's new three-lane system is part of the Veterans Appeals Modernization Act or AMA.

    In 2018, the VA made $85,000 appeals decisions, a 62 percent increase over the year before according to government data.

    Mason says $56,000 veterans received $214 million in retroactive benefits.
    Sean Kelly wasn't one of them.

    Kelly is now on his third appeal.  "A lot of people have died, and they are still waiting on a claim or appeal process, their family is," he said.

    While skeptical, this Marine veteran is also hopeful that the VA is mission-ready for its new effort to speed up the appeals process.

    The VA says it will do quality checks on response times and improve communication, both internal and external.

    The agency is also rolling out customer satisfaction surveys.
     

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