Groups say transition programs miss many vets
02-25-2010 01:59 PM
Programs that help service members start applying for veterans’ disability compensation while they are still on active duty are shaving months off the waiting times for benefits, but limitations and a lack of strong military support prevent them from helping everyone.
“The potential of these programs has yet to be fully realized,” said Tom Tarintino of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Their full impact will not be felt until the [Veterans Affairs Department] begins aggressive outreach to service members and the [Defense Department] makes transition programs uniform and mandatory. We cannot rely on word of mouth to spread this information.”
Tarintino, who testified Wednesday in a hearing before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s disability panel, said the Defense Department and VA, which each play a role in the process, “must integrate their outreach and ensure a smooth transition of services before a service member is ready to leave the uniform behind. Otherwise, more men and women will fall through the cracks.”
Noel Koch, who is responsible for the Defense Department’s wounded warrior care and transition policy office, said changes are coming. A joint-service order is about to be issued asking senior military leaders and commanders “at all levels to strengthen their emphasis” on the two pre-discharge programs to help prepare veterans claims.
A joint memorandum will be a “call to action to commanders” to be “more engaged” in getting eligible service members to start the benefits process before separation, Koch said.
Two other programs have a similar goal but slightly different eligibility requirements.
One program, called Benefits Delivery at Discharge, aims to help service members who are within 60 to 180 days of discharge prepare to file disability claims by getting a complete medical examination and forwarding copies of their personnel and medical records to local VA personnel.
A second program, called Quick Start, is available for those who are less than 60 days from separation, such as National Guard and reserve members being demobilized.
People facing medical discharge from the military are not eligible for either program.
Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., the disability assistance panel chairman, said the two programs appear to be helping. Last year, 46,856 disability claims were processed using the pre-discharge process, with payments made, on average, 95.5 days after discharge, or about four months faster than for those who did not file claims until after separation.
Hall said one of the good things about the two pre-discharge programs is that most claims are paperless — the wave of the future for VA.
Gerald Manar of Veterans of Foreign Wars said the disability assistance programs have not reached their full potential because only about 85,000 of 200,000 service members who separated last year received pre-discharge briefings.
“A large portion of those serving on active duty and in the reserves are not receiving critical information through VA’s outreach efforts,” Manar said.
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