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VA says disability claims pending more than year will get priority

Veterans waiting more than a year for a decision on their disability claims are moving to the front of the line, under a new program announced Friday.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is responding to criticism about the soaring number of claims that have been pending for longer than 125 days. The VA said that of the nearly 900,000 claims pending in the system, some 250,000 are from veterans who have been waiting at least a year for a decision.

Veterans receive disability compensation for injuries and illness incurred or aggravated during their active military service. The amount of the compensation is based on a rating assigned by the VA.

Allison Hickey, the VA undersecretary who oversees the Veterans Benefits Administration, says provisional decisions will be made based on the evidence currently in the veteran's file. In some cases, medical exams will be required, and those will be expedited.

Veterans whose claims are granted would get compensation immediately. Veterans whose claims are denied will have a year to submit more information, and if the decision is reversed, benefits will be paid retroactively back to when the claim was first submitted.

Lawmakers approved of the plan to focus on the oldest claims first, but Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine emphasized that it doesn't resolve the systemic problems that the VA faces because it relies on paper files. The VA is rolling out a new computer system designed to improve efficiency, but not all regional offices will have that system until the end of the year.

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