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Attorney General Josh Stein Fights to Protect Veterans’ Access to Benefits

For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Contact:
Laura Brewer (919) 716-6484

(RALEIGH) Attorney General Josh Stein today called on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to rescind a recent policy that will result in further delays and confusion in the claims process and could force veterans to wait longer to receive the benefits they’ve earned.

“The VA’s change to its claims process removes a critical safeguard against errors and puts veterans at risk of not getting their benefits on time,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “Implementing this policy in the middle of the pandemic that has already placed significant health and financial burdens on veterans is ill-conceived and irresponsible. I urge the VA to rescind it.”

For decades, the VA has allowed accredited veterans service organizations (VSOs) a 48-hour period to review claims decisions before the department issues its final determination. This review period helps identify any errors or issues that may require clarification or additional discussion prior to the claim being issued. But in April, the VA announced the VSO review process would be rescinded, meaning that any corrections or clarifications must be made after a final determination on a claim has been issued.

In a letter submitted to Under Secretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence, a bipartisan coalition of 42 attorneys general asked the department to postpone and reevaluate these changes to its claims review policy. In the letter, the coalition points out that review by VSOs provides the last opportunity to identify and correct errors in claims before they become part of the official record and are used as the basis to deny or diminish benefit awards. Mistakes not caught prior to promulgation can only be rectified through a lengthy and complicated appeals process, meaning veterans must continue to wait to receive the benefits they have earned. In addition, the attorneys general argue that the VA’s decision to implement the policy change in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the VA, VSOs, and veterans are already struggling to follow existing VA policy and while individuals work remotely with access to fewer resources, will further complicate the claims process and delay benefits veterans have already earned.

Additionally, the coalition states that the VA has provided no justification for the substantial policy change and has not allowed input from VSOs or veterans. The attorneys general urge the VA to postpone implementation of such a dramatic change in order to allow input from VSOs and veterans, and evaluate whether there are alternative solutions that do not completely eliminate a critical step in the review process.

Attorney General Stein is joined in sending today’s letter by the Attorneys General of Illinois, South Dakota, Alaska, American Samoa, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

A copy of the letter is available here.

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