, SFR examined the state of New Mexico veterans seeking VA benefits. Many of this week's salient numbers come from Jo Ann Pacheco, the public affairs officer at the Albuquerque VA office, who answers SFR's questions below.
(Pacheco sent her responses via email.)SFR: What is the average wait time for veterans to access federal benefits in New Mexico?
Jo Ann Pacheco:
Currently the average wait
time for a claim for disability benefits is 158 days. Our main focus is
making final decisions on our oldest claims, which are those claims
pending more than 125 days.
Approximately how many New Mexico veterans
are currently awaiting VA
We currently have
approximately 3,800 claims for disability benefits pending with approximately
37.5% pending more than 125 days. In addition we have approximately
1,400 claims where we have made a benefits decision, but veterans have appealed
the decision we made.
Has the July change to PTSD regulations eased
New Mexico's benefits backlog at all?
Under the new rule, VA does
not require corroboration of a PTSD stressor related to fear of hostile
military or terrorist activity if a VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirms
that the stressful experience recalled by a Veteran adequately supports a
diagnosis of PTSD and the Veteran's symptoms are related to the claimed
stressor. Previously, VA required
non-combat Veterans to corroborate the fact that they experienced a PTSD
stressor related to hostile military activity. This rule simplifies the development that is required for
these cases, but does not necessarily decrease the number of new or reopened
claims for PTSD.SFR:
Please verify that VA hospitals do not permit
doctors to recommend PTSD patients to New Mexico's medical cannabis program.
The VA Medical Center does
not permit their physicians to refer PTSD patients for medical cannabis.
One common concern among veteran advocacy
groups is the lack of education or awareness among veterans of the benefits
available to them. Is this a problem? If so, what is the VA doing to help
publicize benefits to veterans?
VA is doing a tremendous amount of
outreach to recently discharged servicemembers to make them aware of VA
benefits they may be entitled to.
In FY 2009, VBA conducted over 8,500
Transition Assistance Program and Disabled Transition Assistance Program
briefings, attended by over 365,800 servicemembers and family members.
VA pre-discharge programs (Benefits
Delivery at Discharge, Quick Start, VA/DoD DES, and case management services
for seriously injured combat Veterans) expedite disability claims processing
for separating servicemembers.
VA and DoD have collaborative workings
groups within the Benefits Executive Council to improve the quality,
efficiency, and effectiveness of the delivery of benefits and services to
servicemembers, Veterans, and their families.
Welcome home packages are mailed to
separating servicemembers explaining VA benefits and services.
Over 200,000 letters are sent
Outreach to guard and reservists is conducted in
partnership with DoD through the Yellow Ribbon program prior to following
deployment. Outreach topics
include retirement, healthcare, and job fairs.