In May 2017, President Trump released his fiscal year 2018 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The overall proposed 2018 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs totaled $186.5 billion. The discretionary portion of the Department of Veterans Affairs budget request totaled $82.1 billion. This was an increase of $4.3 billion, or 5.5%, over the enacted 2017 discretionary funding level.
What This Means for Veterans Disability Claims
The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has been aggressively trying to reduce the backlog of veterans’ disability claims in recent years. In March 2013 there was a backlog of more than 600,000 claims, but by September 2016 that backlog had been reduced to fewer than 72,000 claims. In 2016, more than 1.3 million veterans’ disability claims were completed and, on average, veterans waited 203 fewer days in 2016 for a decision than they did in 2013.
Part of the reason for the requested increase in the agency’s 2018 discretionary budget is to help further reduce the backlog of veterans’ disability claims. It is estimated that the VBA will decide 1.4 million disability claims in fiscal year 2018 and that progress will be sustained on reducing the backlog of claims.
The President Is Not the Only One Trying to Decrease the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Backlog
On August 1, 2017, the United States Senate unanimously passed a $3.9 billion emergency spending package. One of the purposes of the emergency spending package was to allow the agency to adopt new measures to address the backlog of veterans’ disability claims. The bill would shorten the time it takes the Department of Veterans Affairs to address claims brought by veterans who disagree with the agency’s determination of veterans’ disability benefits. Veterans who agree to waive their right to a hearing and their right to present new evidence could be granted an express appeal. While the funding piece of the bill was sent to President Trump for his signature, the express appeals procedures part of the bill will now go back to the House of Representatives, which is expected to approve it.
If you are waiting for veterans’ disability benefits or if you are appealing a decision about veterans’ disability benefits, we understand that time is of the essence. Please contact our experienced veterans’ disability lawyers today for more information about your rights.
by Paul B. Burkhalter Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.