Editor’s note: This article by Patricia Kime originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is ramping up a program that trains future veterans to become claims representatives and claims adjudicators -- positions the department needs to fill to accommodate new filings under the PACT Act.
The Warrior Training Advancement Course, or WARTAC, is an education and employment program aimed at filling the VA's veteran service and rating veteran service representative ranks.
The former helps veterans determine whether they are eligible for disability benefits, assists in filing claims and facilitating the process, while the latter reviews claims, determines whether a veteran's condition is service-related, and decides the percentage of disability a former service member rates.
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The veteran service representative course is six weeks long, while the rating representative class takes 11 weeks. After successful completion of the training, graduates are qualified for jobs that start at nearly $50,000 to $60,000, with raise and promotion opportunities up to six figures.
Kristina Messenger, a Navy veteran who now serves as deputy executive director of operations in the Veterans Benefits Administration Compensation Service and oversees the program, began her VA career as a veteran service representative.
During a roundtable with reporters Wednesday, Messenger said service members take the training while they are on active duty with command approval and graduate with jobs at the VA.
"It's a great opportunity," she said.
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The VA has roughly 800,000 pending disability compensation applications, with an additional 600,000 requiring some form of adjudication, according to the department.
Since August, more than half a million veterans' claims have been filed under the PACT Act, the landmark legislation passed last year that eased the requirements for many Persian Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans to apply for disability benefits. Of those, claims processors have made decisions on 41%.
To handle the current backlog of more than 200,000 claims and prevent more from joining the backlog of claims older than 125 days, the VA has launched a massive recruitment effort to hire more claims processors, with a goal to add 1,900 this fiscal year.
The WARTAC program expansion is part of that effort, according to Messenger. Since its inception in 2014, 1,694 transitioning service members have completed the program, and 1,582 have accepted positions with the VBA.
Following a lull in the program during the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 400 service members have graduated from WARTAC so far this year.
Air Force veteran Scott Clark trained for the program while he was on active duty stationed overseas. Nearing his end-of-active-service date, with a wife and two children and facing the challenge of finding a job in the U.S. while overseas, Clark learned about the program and signed up.
He took the course at Fort Hood, Texas, and graduated last December.
"You know the old saying, 'If you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life,'" Clark said in a news release Monday. "I seriously love coming to work."
According to Messenger, the jobs offered are not available for remote work, but telework and flexibility are offered in the locations where the new employees are hired.
More information on the program, as well as training dates, is available on the VA's WARTAC website.
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