Veterans have been denied benefits during the coronavirus pandemic because their compensation and pension exams at the Department of Veterans Affairs have been canceled, advocates told Congress Wednesday.
A backlog of compensation and pension exams is growing -- with more than 230,000 delayed during the pandemic so far -- and VA has yet to communicate its plan to address that backlog, lawmakers and advocates said during an online forum held by the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
"The abrupt pause to the process has left some veterans to wonder when and how their claims will move forward," Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., said.
No one from VA was present for the forum, and lawmakers were critical of the department's absence.
"VA's insight is critical if we are to determine the best way forward on this issue," said Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill.
"VA needs to show leadership in the midst of this crisis by showing preparedness," said Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., adding that the numbers of backlogged claims "are alarming, but that doesn't mean we can rush back to normal operations without a plan in place" and that plan should address the "mounting backlog without sacrificing quality."
Beginning in early April, VA began canceling compensation and pension (C&P) exams or transitioning them to telehealth by phone or online.
That was several weeks after President Donald Trump instituted a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic, and followed state and local governments enacting stay-at-home orders. Some veterans already had canceled their exams for their safety or had their appointments canceled by contracted providers.