Patrick Jolly

Patrick Jolly

Have you filed for service-connected disability or pension benefits? Have you been denied eligibility for education or home loan benefits? The Department of Veterans Affairs continuously seeks ways to better serve veterans and family members — particularly those filing claims for benefits.

Recently, the VA updated the processes for disagreeing, requesting reconsideration or appealing unfavorable claim decisions.

Up until Feb. 18, the procedures for notifying the VA and subsequently filing disagreements, reconsiderations and appeals involved options that could easily take several years to adjudicate. The Appeals Modernization Act became effective on Feb. 19 and provides segmented lanes with much shorter timelines.

The Supplemental Lane is for claimants with additional information or proof to be considered. This option has a 125-day completion goal.

The Higher Level Review Lane is for claimants simply wanting a more experienced rating specialist to review the current information on file. It also has a 125-day completion goal.

Lastly, the Appeal Lane is for veterans desiring to go directly the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The goal for the Appeal option is 365 days.

Under the old “legacy” appeals process, it was not unusual for a veteran to wait 7-8 years for an appeal to run through the bureaucracy. If successful, this will be a vast improvement.

Priority for Purple Heart recipients

Veterans awarded the Purple Heart medal for wounds in combat will receive top priority for their claims with the Veterans Affairs Department, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced recently.

Beginning in April, veterans with the Purple Heart medal will be placed in the department’s top-priority category for disability benefit claims, along with Medal of Honor recipients and those with severe, service-related disabilities.

Recipients of the Purple Heart medals are automatically eligible to enroll in VA health care for free and are exempt from co-payments for their medical care, according to the VA.

Orientation goes weekly

Perhaps you’re a veteran or family member interested in filing an initial claim for benefits. Maybe you’ve filed a claim and would like to revisit the decision.

The Napa County Veterans Service Office helps veterans, dependents, and surviving spouses develop and file claims for VA benefits. A common and unfortunate theme is that often veterans and other potential claimants aren’t sure they even qualify or where to start.

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To explain basic benefits and answer general questions, we provide an orientation to veterans’ benefits each Tuesday from 1:30-2:30 p.m.. The orientations are held at 650 Imperial Way in Napa, home to the Napa County Veterans Service Office.

Please call us at (707) 253-4558 to add your name to our orientation list. We look forward to Serving!

Vet Connect links veterans with services

If you are a veteran, family member or surviving spouse, you may be entitled to more services and benefits than you know.

Every month the Napa County Veterans Service Office hosts a program that brings vets and providers together. Held on the second Thursday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon, a dozen agencies are available to discuss services and get applicants started.

Participants help with topics that include VA Health Care, Social Security, employment, housing and more.

Join the free program, learn about services and enjoy free coffee and donuts provided by Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA Post 702).

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Patrick J. Jolly is a Napa County Veterans Service Officer. Email him at Patrick.JollyA@countyofnapa.org.