Numbers are important. When you dealing with subjective adjectives like “reasonable,” they are very important. About two years ago, I was listening to a Federal Circuit oral argument, when a newly appointed judge asked counsel how many expert medical opinions are provided by VA. The new judge speculated that it “must be thousands.” In fact, he was off by three orders of magnitude. The number is actually over one million, but neither of the attorneys was able to provide the correct information. Fortunately, that case did not result in a precedential decision as I recall, but for those of us who practice veterans law, these kinds of oral arguments are scary. It is problematic that good information on the system is not readily available to the courts, to appellate advocates, or those considering serious academic study of the field. Regardless of the types of policies you support, good policy should be based upon an accurate understanding of the realities of the system.
How many claims for benefits does VA handle each year? That is actually not an easy question to answer because VA uses an outdated definition of “claim” that really reports only the number of applications for benefits. In recent years, VA has been receiving more than one million “claims” a year. However, most applications claim more than one different disability or are “supplemented” later by requests for consideration of additional disabilities. In other words, most claims combine multiple causes of action that may have no factual relationship. World War II veterans tended to assert one or two medical conditions per claim but, more recently, Vietnam veterans averaged three to four, and Iraq and Afghanistan veterans averaged 8.5 issues per claim in fiscal year 2011. So if you are looking at the number of different causes of action filed, it is somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four million different claims per year right now.