[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) applauded the Senate passage of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. The bipartisan legislation, introduced by Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, will overhaul the current process for veterans’ appeals at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill passed the Senate unanimously tonight. U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) led the companion measure in the House of Representatives.
“Passage of this bipartisan measure is a significant step toward securing veterans the benefits they need and deserve,” said Blumenthal. “Our nation’s veterans will no longer be bogged down by a cumbersome process that denies fair and just consideration of their appeal. This bipartisan reform will usher in a new era of transparency and communications for veterans and their families.”
“I applaud the Senate for quickly taking action and passing this critical legislation,” said Isakson. “For too long our veterans and their families have faced unacceptable delays during the VA’s benefits claims appeal process. I urge the House of Representatives to follow suit to help ensure we get veterans a response to their appeals in a timely manner.”
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.
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act would create three separate paths for veterans to choose from when seeking redress from a decision by the Veterans Benefits Administration on their claims for VA benefits. The measure allows certain veterans already going through the appeals process to opt in to the new system and gives the VA secretary the authority to test facets of the new system prior to full implementation. The bill also requires 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 was introduced by Isakson and Blumenthal and co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W), Thad Cochran (R-MI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Steve Daines, (R-MT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester, (D-MT), John Thune (R-SD), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Mark Warner (D-VA).