That’s what one Veteran told us about the appeals process for Veterans’ claims. To better understand how Veterans experience the process – how the process fits into the context of their lives – a group of six researchers spoke at length with 92 Veterans whose service spanned the periods from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The current appeals process was established in 1933 when hospitals were few, most care was provided by house call, and medical records were virtually non-existent. Today, increases in medical knowledge, clinical practice and the acceleration of the modern world have slowed the appeals system to a crawl as it struggles to keep up with expanding mandates, legal requirements and documentation.
Researchers used human-centered design methods to understand the needs, behaviors and experiences of Veterans during the appeal process. The team spoke to Veterans at every stage of the process, from those receiving their initial decision to those with final and complete results from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). Some were new to the process. Others, such as those who had just had their hearings with the Board, were years into the process.
Their research identified five key themes surrounding Veterans’ needs, perceptions and expectations during the appeals process:
- The length and labor of the process takes a toll on Veterans’ lives.
- Like in the military, Veterans care deeply about the outcomes of other Veterans.
- Veterans feel alone in a process they don’t understand.
- The appeals process feels like a fight.
- Veterans want to be heard.
These insights from this report can serve as a guide across VA for a redesign of appeals and related services to better meet the needs of Veterans and their families.