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In 12 Months, VA’s Disability Claims Backlog Falls 44 Percent

By Hook Law Center

In recent years, deserving U.S. veterans have had to endure lengthy waits for their disability benefits. Each case needs to be examined at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and a massive backlog of applications made the process tortuously slow. Some new applicants near major cities waited well over a year when the backlog was at its worst.

Thankfully, the VA has implemented several new policies to bring the system up to date, including mandated overtime for claims processors and a transition to computerized records. And the efforts appear to be paying off.

The VA recently announced that the backlog of pending claims, which peaked at about 611,000 in March 2013, has fallen by 44 percent. Now, 344,000 claims remain. The current average wait time is 119 days shorter than it was a year ago, the agency says, and the accuracy of decisions has risen as well.

The VA continues to prioritize “fully developed claims.” These are applications in which the veteran submits all relevant records at once and certifies that he or she has no other evidence to submit. Claims from homeless veterans, those facing extreme financial hardship, the terminally ill, former prisoners of war and Medal of Honor recipients will also receive priority.

In 2010, the VA established a goal of processing all disability claims within 125 days.

As veterans’ attorneys, we have seen worthy disabled veterans wait far too long for their compensation, and we are pleased to see progress being made.

Posted on Friday, May 30th, 2014. Filed under Veterans' Benefits.

Does Your Long-Term Care Insurance Permit You to Hire Home Caregivers Directly?

By Hook Law Center

According to long-term care insurer Genworth, nearly three-quarters of those who require long-term care prefer to receive that service in their own homes.

Perhaps that is because home care can be a relative bargain. According to the firm, the median wage for a home health care aide is just under $20, an amount that has increased 1.3 percent annually in the past five years. The median annual costs of assisted living and a private nursing home room are $42,000 and $87,600, respectively. Those costs have risen 4.3 and 4.2 percent per year, respectively, over the past five years. Long-term care is more expensive outside the home, and the gap is widening.

However, a recent change to the Fair Labor Standards Act may turn the trend and shrink that divide. Home care aides will soon be covered by the law, making them eligible for minimum wage and overtime pay. Most already earn more than minimum wage, but most do not earn overtime pay.

To control the cost of home health care, many families hire independent caregivers, including friends and neighbors, for assistance. But the changes in labor standards may encourage the long-term care insurance industry to require caregivers to be hired through agencies.

Insurers say that the agency requirement would ensure reliability and consistent quality of care. That may be true, but an agency could also act as a middleman, ultimately driving up the cost of care.

If you are in the market for long-term care insurance, consider whether a given policy will permit you to hire a caregiver directly. Or, if you already have insurance, find out what is permissible under your policy before making hiring decisions. You do not want any surprises in either coverage or care.

Posted on Tuesday, May 20th, 2014. Filed under Long-Term Care, Senior Law News.
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