Bill will help reduce years-long delays for veterans seeking VA benefits
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today introduced legislation aimed at reducing wait times for veterans who are seeking benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The VA’s current appeals process is in desperate need of updating, and nearly half a million veterans are in limbo because of the VA’s existing backlog. Between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2017, the number of pending appeals increased from approximately 380,000 to 470,000 – a more than 20 percent increase.
To address this problem, Isakson introduced the bipartisan Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (S.1024) to overhaul the current appeals process at the VA.
“For too long our veterans and their families have faced unacceptable delays during the VA’s disability claims appeal process,” said Isakson. “This legislation, created with input from the VA and veterans groups, overhauls the current appeals process and puts in place a new system that is more transparent and allows veterans to choose the option that is right for them. I look forward to working with stakeholders and my colleagues to advance appeals reform legislation to ensure that veterans do not continue to experience long delays when seeking benefits from the VA.”
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 would create three separate paths for veterans to choose from if they are not satisfied with the initial decision made by the Veterans Benefits Administration on their claims for VA benefits. It would also allow certain veterans already going through the appeals process to opt in to the new system.
The bill would give the VA secretary the authority to test facets of the new system prior to full implementation and would also require the VA to provide a comprehensive plan for both implementing the new system and processing the existing appeals.
Under the new process, veterans dissatisfied with the initial decisions on their claims will be able to:
- Seek a higher-level review by a regional office on the same evidence presented to the original claims processors;
- File a supplemental claim with a regional office that would include the opportunity to submit additional evidence; or
- Appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, resulting in a possible hearing and/or the opportunity to submit additional evidence.
A one-page summary of the legislation can be found here.
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 is cosponsored by Sens. Jon Tester, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Companion legislation was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Mike Bost, R-Ill., and Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. Congressmen Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Tim Walz, D-Minn., chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, are original co-sponsors of the House bill.