Guard and Reserve Disability Claims Less Likey to be Approved?
A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicates that Guard and Reserve VA claims are less likely to be approved than their active duty counterparts.
That might sound like discrimination at first glance, but the reality of the situation seems to be related in part to a lack of awareness in the Guard/Reserve of how the VA claims process works and how to properly document medical issues that could later be turned into VA claims.
Another factor mentioned in the GAO report? Incomplete medical records and poor oversight. One telling part of that report? Lower numbers of VA claims are NOT because there are fewer injuries or illnesses among members of the Guard and Reserve. Instead, the GAO holds it’s because they have been underreported or poorly documented.
What is the GAO?
The Government Accountability Office is a non-partisan agency with a mission to provide Congress and the public with “timely, fact-based, non-partisan information that can be used to improve government and save taxpayers billions of dollars,” according to the official site.
The work of the GOA is done at the request of “congressional committees or subcommittees or is statutorily required by public laws or committee reports, per our Congressional Protocols.” The GAO is an agency uniquely capable of studying complex issues like the Guard/Reserve VA claims issue.
Related: Guard and Reserve Military Benefits
GAO Study Results
The GAO conducted its study and released a report on October 30, 2023, noting that as many as 20% fewer new VA disability claims were approved for Guard and Reserve members between 2012 and 2021.
According to the GAO, “VA and Department of Defense (DOD) officials were unaware of this difference.”
VA disability claims typically require the servicemember to provide medical evidence of a health condition thought to be service-connected.
The GAO notes that VA personnel didn’t always have enough evidence to approve the claims, and “stakeholders” who work with Guard and Reserve troops in this area report that “finding evidence needed to support reserve component claims, such as service dates, is difficult.”
Why? One Guard/Reserve form lists active-duty service but does not document two-week annual Reservist training, a key part of record-keeping for these troops.
According to the GAO, “DOD designed a new form that will list annual training dates, but the military services have not fully applied sound planning practices to implement it. VA claims processors also lack a reliable data source for the dates of monthly weekend drills.”
Furthermore, “…reserve component members do not always understand the importance of immediately documenting health conditions to support any future disability compensation claims. DOD and VA guidance does not address this knowledge gap.”
Between the troops not knowing more documentation is needed and the lack of communication from the VA and the DoD about those issues, it’s easy to see how this problem can grow into a major issue.
What the GAO Recommends
To fix this issue, the GAO recommends the following actions:
- The Secretary of Defense should work with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop guidance, such as outreach materials, brochures, or training.
- This training should make Guard/Reserve members “aware of their potential eligibility for disability compensation under various duty statuses.”
- The training should explain “how reporting health conditions when they occur can affect subsequent eligibility for disability compensation.”
- The training should discuss “the importance of obtaining and maintaining sufficient documentation of duty status and medical treatment received.”
Other recommendations include creating ways to “better communicate to federal and non-federal users the limitations of its incomplete data, particularly the unreliable variables on military personnel records from before 1985.”
What to Know
As mentioned at the start of this article, lower numbers of Guard and Reserve VA claims is NOT because there are fewer injuries or illnesses among Reserve component members. The GAO holds it’s because the medical issues have either been underreported or poorly documented.
The DoD and the VA have issued statements saying they are “working” on the issue but also acknowledging that they were “unaware” of it. Depending on which source you read, there are between one million and two million members of the Guard and Reserve who are potentially affected by the issue.
Related: Guard and Reserve Military Benefits
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.