VA Closes Regional Benefits Offices Temporarily
All Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Regional Offices are closed to the public for veteran walk-in claim assistance, counseling, scheduled appointments, and other in-person services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The offices will remain open to essential personnel as services will be provided to veterans through the Veterans Administration website (VA). Specific claim question information can be addressed through the Inquiry Routing & Information System (IRIS) or via telephone at 1-800-827-1000. The VBA also has a presence on Facebook and Twitter that you can follow for updates. This social distancing effort will protect veterans who are older, who have underlying health conditions, or both, as well as on-site VA personnel. Though the delivery mechanisms to provide benefits and services are now focused via online services, veterans, families, and survivors will continue to receive assistance during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Hearings with a veterans law judge will continue in a videoconferencing format. Family members, outside advocates such as the American Legion’s service officers, as well as attorneys who may be representing a veteran, must now videoconference to guide veterans through their claim process. This process works very well except in the instances when a veteran does not have a smartphone or other internet device, or has one but are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with using the technology. The VA is allowing veterans to cancel their meetings with the judge though it will delay the process. This delay, however, will not jeopardize their claim. Family, formal advocate groups, and attorneys, either for free or for a fee, must step in to assist the many veterans who are senior or near senior age who are unable to navigate benefits claims in these formats.
To make ends meet from layoffs and the national economic fallout due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many veterans who have been eligible but never filed for disability ratings are doing so now. All new disability claims require, at minimum, one examination by a physician. An appointment can be tough to schedule as doctors are currently prioritizing emergency and sick calls over non-emergency appointments. The important thing for a veteran to do is to schedule the appointment anyway because beginning the process identifies the start date for retroactive payment for their disability should the veteran become approved.
The Veteran Benefits Administration also handles GI Bill benefits, VA home loans, as well as disability claims. All of these services are being funneled into online, videoconferencing, and telephone formats until further notice. VA hospitals and clinics will remain open to veterans but have new restrictions, so be aware of what they are before trying to walk into a VA healthcare facility.
If you have questions or would like to discuss your current legal needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out. And if you are outside of our service area, please contact an experienced Elder Law Attorney (preferably one that is Board Certified in Elder Law) to assist you.
Jason A. Penrod is only the 20th attorney to be Board Certified as an Elder Law Expert by the Florida Bar and the National Elder Law Foundation. He is the founder of Family Elder Law (www.familyelderlaw.com) which has offices in Lakeland, Lake Wales, and Sebring, Florida.