The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) was forced to close down many of its services to the public during the coronavirus crisis. During the height of the pandemic, the risk that vulnerable patients would be infected was too great. Thanks to these efforts, though, the rate of COVID-19 infection has dropped enough that the VA is now reopening many of these shuttered services to the public.
The COVID-19 Crisis
The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has proved to be the greatest public health crisis the United States has faced in over a century. WIth more than seven million people infected and more than 200,000 dead, it has taken an extraordinary toll on American life. New York, in particular, was hit hard early on, suffering more illnesses and deaths than any other state.
In response to this crisis, many government offices closed, and the VA was no exception. Unfortunately, even with new telemedicine programs to help veterans access healthcare remotely, many veterans struggled to access the healthcare they need to survive and manage their medical issues. This has caused substantial issues, particularly for veterans struggling with COVID-19 themselves, as accessing their benefits became extremely difficult.
Accessing Veterans’ Benefits
One of the major problems that veterans faced, however, was not accessing VA facilities, but instead trying to access their other VA benefits. Processes that could normally be completed in-person now moved entirely to remote processes, with the field offices closed to the public. Applications for benefits and appeals of prior decisions, in particular, have suffered from delays due to the need to move to a completely remote system.
While there has been a gradual move towards handling applications and appeals online or over the phone, many veterans still relied on field offices to handle their issues in-person. This is especially true for older veterans, or those with certain disabilities, who may have difficulty using the internet to handle these matters. It can also be difficult, ironically, for veterans who live in certain remote areas, where limited internet access makes teleconferencing and other online solutions nearly impossible.
Reopening After the Pandemic
As of now, eleven regional offices for the VA have reopened around the country, with more expected to reopen over the course of the next few months. This will allow them to resume in-person services for veterans looking to apply for benefits, or those who are having difficulty accessing their benefits. Exactly when these offices will reopen is dependent on local conditions, including the rate of infection and what quarantine procedures local and state governments have in place.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, for his part, has reassured veterans that the VA is taking every precaution to ensure veterans are protected when they seek access to their benefits at regional field offices. “We have robust safety measures in place,” he said in a statement released by the VA, “that will allow us to resume in-person services while protecting the health and safety of Veterans, their families and our team members who serve them.”
The attorneys of Sullivan & Kehoe place a special focus on assisting disabled veterans. Our veterans’ disability lawyers are still available for remote consultation on your legal issues. Call our office at (800) 395-7830 to schedule a consultation in our New York City, Garden City, Kings Park, Riverhead, or White Plains office, or visit our contact page.