[WASHINGTON, DC] – The current appeals process for veterans benefit is broken, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ranking Member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said yesterday at a hearing to consider legislation he authored that would overhaul the current system. Because of redundancies and inefficiencies in the current process, most veterans wait years for a decision on their appeals. The legislation to modernize that process “is the product of true collaboration among VSOs, experts on the appeals process, and VA staff,” Blumenthal said at a hearing yesterday to consider this and other pieces of legislation to improve the VA health and benefits system.
“The appeals system is broken,” Blumenthal said. “Over 450,000 appeals are pending. The current system is complex, inefficient, ineffective, and confusing. The current system, which dates to 1933, no longer serves veterans. And it is indefensible. Consider the following: 80,000 veterans have appeals older than 5 years. 5,000 veterans have appeals older than 10 years. 5 years will be spent resolving a typical appeal.”
Blumenthal’s legislation would replace the current appeals process – which today stands over 450,000 appeals awaiting a decision – with one that is simple, fair, and transparent. The bill would give veterans clear options after receiving an initial decision by consolidating the current appeals process into three distinct tracks:
- Local Higher Level Review: This lane would provide the opportunity for a quick resolution of the claim by a higher-level adjudicator at the VA Regional Office. This lane would be a good option for veterans who are confident they have all the evidence necessary to win their claim.
- New Evidence: This lane would be for submitting new evidence at the VA Regional Office. This lane would serve as a good option for veterans who believe that they can succeed on their claim by providing additional evidence.
- Board Review: In this last lane, intermediate steps currently required by statute to receive Board review would be eliminated. Furthermore, hearing and non-hearing options at the Board would be handled on separate dockets so these distinctly different types of work can be better managed.
“To be clear, this legislation on its own will not solve the current inventory of appeals,” Blumenthal said. “However, if VA continues to operate under the current appeals system—and without additional resources to address the appeals backlog—by 2026 veterans could be waiting 10 years for the resolution of their appeal.”