JULY 31, 2020 UPDATE: Most VA offices nationwide are now open again. If the VA delayed your in-person claim exam this spring due to Covid-19 office closings, you can now reschedule. If you have questions or cannot make your rescheduled appointment, call 1-800-827-1000 or contact your nearest VA regional office. The following Covid-19 guidelines remain in effect for in-person office visits:
- No family members, children or spouses may come with you. If you have a C&P claim exam or other office appointment, please come alone or with your essential caregiver. Anyone not designated as an essential caregiver may not enter the VA facility in order to protect everyone’s safety.
- Plan to arrive earlier than usual for your appointment. Every person entering a VA clinic, hospital or private healthcare facility must undergo routine temperature checks. Other safety measures to protect veterans and employees may include a Covid-19 screening, asking about any recent known exposures or current symptoms.
Very few VA locations remain closed for in-person C&P exams at this time. You can search for the nearest VA office or healthcare facility conducting claim exams by ZIP code on the VBA’s website here.
All 56 regional offices that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates are now closed nationwide. The VA did this in compliance with CDC guidelines to limit community spread of Covid-19 caused by the novel coronavirus. From healthcare needs to disability compensation claims and beyond, VA offices provide many different services and benefits to veterans. Below, we’ll answer some common questions from veterans currently impacted by temporary Covid-19 office closings.
Q: I’m filing a VA benefits claim/appeal, but the deadline to turn in my paperwork is coming up fast. What should I do?
A: On April 3, 2020, the VA announced it would grant all time limit extension requests that veterans submit in writing. The agency already determined that delays caused by Covid-19 constitute “good cause” for turning in paperwork late. To request your time limit extension, do one of the following:
- Write what you’re asking for directly on your benefits application or supporting paperwork. For example: “I’d like to request a timely filing exemption for this VA compensation claim due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
- Include your written request on a separate piece of paper and submit it along with your other documents. Use the language from the first bullet point as a guide. For example: “I’m requesting a timely filing exemption for submitting this medical evidence that supports my appeal due to Covid-19.”
You can submit any forms, applications, medical evidence and other required paperwork online, in the mail or by fax. However, you must put your request in writing and mention Covid-19 for the VA to automatically approve your filing extension.
Q: Does Covid-19 mean I can skip my previously scheduled compensation and pension (C&P) exam? How does that affect my VA claim?
A: According to the VA, you can still get a C&P exam. Unfortunately, it cannot happen in person at a regional office while the Covid-19 shutdown is still in effect. Here are some options you may consider, depending on which description below best applies to your situation:
- If you submitted Acceptable Clinical Evidence (ACE) along with your claim, you’ll have several different alternatives. The VA will likely first review your existing medical records, then schedule a virtual C&P exam with you if needed. This may happen over the phone, online or on a video conference call with the VA’s medical examiner.
- Contact your VA medical provider and ask if it’s possible to reschedule your C&P exam for a later date. This option may work best for veterans filing supplemental claims, appealing prior determination decisions or other non-urgent requests.
- If your exam’s scheduled with a non-VA healthcare provider, you can still attend or ask to put it on hold. The VA contracts with some private healthcare providers trusted to perform C&P exams on veterans. In some cases, providers may still perform exams with additional protective measures in place designed to ensure your safety. But if you don’t feel safe having an in-person exam because of Covid-19, you can also put it on hold. To do this, contact your non-VA provider directly to request a hold or reschedule your exam for a later date.
Q: Can I get medications refilled that require an in-person doctor’s visit to renew them if offices are closed for Covid-19?
A: Yes, you can get prescriptions refilled without having to come in for an in-person renewal. First, you must send a secure message to your healthcare provider using MyHealtheVet. Until the VA lifts all Covid-19 restrictions, you can use telehealth appointments to complete evaluations needed to renew your prescriptions. The VA also suspended all monthly copay billing statements starting April 6, 2020 until the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
Q: I’m sick and the VA hospital/clinic in my area is closed because of Covid-19. With the VA pay for me to see a regular, private doctor?
A: Unless it’s an emergency, the VA still needs to approve referrals for appointments with private community healthcare providers. Otherwise, you may have to pay for those visits out of your own pocket. The eligibility requirements on the VA’s website help you determine next steps based on which type of care you need.
Q: Will I get a Covid-19 stimulus check, and if I do, will it lower my VA benefit payments?
A: Veterans who meet the government’s income and tax-filing requirements should receive a one-time stimulus payment. Veterans whose annual income is less than $75,000 will receive a one-time payment of $1,200. Eligible married couples with annual income below $150,000 should receive a one-time $2,400 payment. Every child younger than 16 you claim on your income taxes adds another $500 to your one-time pay amount. If your individual annual income’s more than $99,000 /$150,000 per married couple, you won’t qualify for the Covid-19 stimulus payment.
The VA won’t count Covid-19 stimulus package payments as income for pension or parent Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) beneficiaries. So, your monthly VA benefit payment will stay the same amount. This will still be true even if the government decides to send out additional Covid-19 stimulus checks in the future.
Q: I still have another question that isn’t answered here. Who can I contact?
The best number to call right now depends on the nature of your question:
- If you have a question about VA healthcare-related debt, call 888-827-4817.
- For questions about VA benefit-related debt, call 800-827-0648.
- If you have questions about VA benefits, services, claims or appeals, call 800-827-1000 Monday-Friday, 8am-9pm ET.
- GI bill questions about paying for education? Call 888-442-4551 Monday-Friday, 8am-7pm ET.
- Homeless or at risk of becoming homeless due to Covid-19? Call 877-424-3838 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.
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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.