MOAA’s president and CEO joined the head of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) for a Sept. 18 call-in event that put veterans in direct contact with VBA leadership regarding their VA claims and provided updates on systemwide programs and challenges.
The engagement effort from VBA head Dr. Paul Lawrence, and the willingness to perform follow-up calls with veterans who called in during the program, are “reflective of the veteran-first approach to customer service that Dr. Lawrence and his team of over 24,000 have instituted under his leadership,” said MOAA President Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), during the call.
“A huge part of what we do is working to preserve your military benefits,” Atkins said. “It’s a mission that I and our staff take very seriously.”
Along with fielding calls regarding individual VA claims and questions about ongoing VA programs, Lawrence discussed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 and encouraged eligible veterans to apply for expanded benefits.
A key concern, Lawrence said, was in finding eligible survivors, especially if the surviving spouse “has separated from the military community and may be unaware of this. So we’re trying to find children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, folks who heard about this back at a neighborhood gathering and the veteran was talking about serving in Vietnam. So, we’re trying to find these people and let them know -- benefits and health care are retroactive.”
Among the other issues discussed:
- Asked about a recent increase in backlogged VA claims, Lawrence noted a two-front push to bring that figure back down: Work with contractors to increase the number of compensation and pension (C&P) exams given at VA locations nationwide, and talks aimed at speeding up the opening of, and expanding VA staff access to, the National Personnel Records Center, which houses the bulk of military medical records.
- Remote C&P exams, or “Tele-C&P,” will continue “to the extent possible,” Lawrence said, when asked about those procedures by a disabled veteran who also served as a VA contractor providing the exams. “In a perfect world, we will be trying hard to expand it,” Lawrence said, though some exams still will require in-person visits.
- Responding to a surviving spouse who related a positive encounter with VA staff upon the death of her husband, Lawrence referred other survivors, and those making end-of-life plans alongside their veteran spouses, to online VA resources designed to ease the process.
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A key theme echoed by Lawrence, who has hosted dozens of similar events at the state level and for other veterans groups, was the need for those aware of VA offerings to reach out to potential beneficiaries. They can engage with the department via VA.gov or by calling (800) 827-1000.
“We continue to work to be more accessible, more accountable, and more agile, so we can be more responsive to the challenges our veterans face,” Lawrence said. “Let them know we are here. We want them to give us a chance, or a second chance, to provide them with the benefits they’ve earned.”
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