"The claims process really can be broken down into five sequential steps. And it starts with when a claim is received, and it's entered into the VA system."
That's Pritz Navaratnasingam. He's the Director of the Houston veterans affairs (VA) office.
Next the veteran is notified by letter that the VA is gathering information on his or her claim. All pretty straight forward so far right? Until....
"Next step is the big one, which is us going out and getting all the evidence."
About 70 percent of the VA's time is spent on this step. So when you hear about all those frustrated veterans waiting in the claims line, it's usually because of this part.
"I wanna know what's going on with my claim. They keep telling me they're working on it."
Vincent Morrison is a Harris County Veterans Services Officer, and he hears that line from the veterans he helps a lot. His answer?
"Technically, they probably are."
But every claim is different and some are more complicated than others.
"This guy had twenty-two issues."
Morrison is referring to a veteran he helped recently who had written nearly everything that ever happened to him during his military service. Sometimes the more information the better says Emile Dufrene Houston's VA Service Center Manager.
"To help submit what we call fully developed claims. It reduces the overall cycle time to finalize a veteran's claim and hopefully get money in their pockets."
But not when it takes forever to process through all those issues, says Morrison, because each one has to have proof of service connection. And that's not always easy when it happened a long time ago.
"That's why you need to be in touch with your corpsmen or your medic: corpsmen, Marine Corps and Navy. One of the guys, he was denied, and I said, 'Technically the VA's right. There [are] no records.' Contacted the corpsman, 'Oh I remember you refused medivac.'"
This is why Morrison feels it's important to provide as much information up front to the VA and to be as succinct as possible.
"Our role: educate the veteran. Like I tell them, 'You are part of this claim. You are, we are and the VA.' Yes there's a form to fill out for the VA to go ahead and retrieve this evidence. Now you can do that and 120 days later they may get this information. But if you have the ability to go down to the doctor's office, sign the release and get it come on you're gonna save 90 days time. Period."
In our second part of this series, we'll take a look at the next steps and where the VA is trying to make some big time saving changes.