Veterans Deserve A Choice in How They Obtain Their Disability Benefits

An Important and Needed Service for Veterans

In recent years, a growing number of private services have emerged to help Veterans navigate the Department of Veterans Affairs’ disability claims process and receive the full benefits they earned from their service in a timely manner. These services help ensure Veterans receive accurate disability ratings, expedite the resolution of claims, reduce the VA’s case backlog, and save taxpayer dollars.

Current Process is Not Working Well for Veterans

The current VA benefits process is not working well for many service-disabled Veterans, who must navigate a bureaucratic and confusing claims process that often leaves them waiting years to receive their benefits and receiving less than they earned.

Currently, only 5.2 million of 19 million eligible Veterans are receiving benefits. That means there may be millions of eligible Veterans who are not receiving benefits they earned, either because they aren’t aware of their eligibility, have already tried to receive benefits and were wrongly denied, or are too intimidated by the process to even apply.

The influx of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans, and new legislation such as the PACT Act, have also overwhelmed the VA, which now faces a backlog of more than 300,000 claims and a claims inventory of more than one million, the highest level in more than ten years. With limited VA medical personnel, many Veterans are experiencing insufficient and rushed medical exams, resulting in inaccurate claims applications.

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Despite Their Best Efforts, VSOs Can’t Keep Up With the Demand

Despite their best efforts, Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), which are intended to represent Veterans in the process, often do not have enough resources to keep up with the demand. According to the VA, in 2022, there were only 7,650 accredited VSO representatives in the country. This is nowhere near enough to support the more than one million claims currently in the VA claims inventory. In testimony before Congress in 2023, the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers (NACVSO) acknowledged that they face “disparities in staffing levels, technology, education and outreach” that “have become even more acute in recent years,” and that they are “scrambling to meet an influx of requests from Veterans for support.” 

Attorneys Are Expensive and Can Only Help With Appeals

If a Veteran feels they received an inaccurate disability rating, they can hire an attorney to help them appeal the VA’s decision, but attorneys are expensive and can only be hired to help with an appeal, not an initial claims application. Attorneys may also be incentivized to drag out appeals, since they are paid a percentage of the Veteran’s back pay. The longer an appeal takes, the more the attorney is paid.

Private Benefit Services Are Stepping in to Help

A growing number of private benefit services – many led and staffed by Veterans and former VA employees – have stepped in to meet the demand from Veterans for more options in how they obtain their disability benefits. By guiding Veterans through the VA claims process and helping ensure they receive an accurate disability rating on their initial claim, private services allow Veterans to avoid the need to file costly and time-consuming appeals. Their work speeds up the resolution of claims, reduces the VA case backlog, and saves taxpayer dollars. 

Proposed Legislation to Ban Private Benefit Services Would Harm Veterans

Despite the important work of private benefit services, some Members of Congress have proposed legislation, the GUARD VA Benefits Act, that would make it a crime for these services to help Veterans. While intended to protect Veterans from fraud and bad actors, this legislation is far too broad and would ban many services that are doing good work on behalf of Veterans.

We Can Support and Protect Veterans Without Taking Away Veterans’ Choice

The bipartisan PLUS for Veterans Act, introduced in 2023, or similar legislation would allow Veterans to continue using ethical private services to help them file VA disability claims, but would require those companies to become accredited with the VA. This accreditation process would effectively block bad actors from operating, ensuring that Veterans are protected from fraud. It would establish standardized guidelines, prevent conflicts of interest, and set caps on fees. It would impose the same criminal penalties on bad actors included in the GUARD VA Benefits Act.

Enabling Veterans to access ethical private services, the PLUS for Veterans Act or similar legislation could realign incentives within the system, prioritizing the effective and efficient processing of initial claims.

Our Veterans Deserve Nothing Less.