By Matt Saintsing
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted unanimously to reform the current appeals process for veterans applying for Department of Veterans’ Affairs VA benefits Wednesday.
Under the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, veterans who are unsatisfied with the VA’s results on their claims will be given additional options to appeal benefits decisions.
If it becomes law, a claimant would be able to seek a higher-level assessment by a regional office based on the same evidence originally presented. Additionally, the opportunity would be given to submit new evidence, or to appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, possibly resulting in a hearing.
Currently, the wait time for a appeals decision can take as long as five years.
Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chairman of the Senate of Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced this legislation in part due to the fact that half a million appeals cases are pending in the VA.
“It is critical that we address the unacceptable delays that veterans and their families face during the VA’s disability claims appeal process,” Isakson said in a statement.
“We worked with the VA and veterans groups to put forth this bipartisan legislation that overhauls the current appeals process and puts in place a new system that allows veterans to choose the option that is right for them. I hope the Senate will quickly take up and pass this critical legislation to help ensure veterans are served in a timely and efficient manner,” said Isakson.
A statement by Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, David J. Shulkin, praised the initiative by the Senate committee.
“I want to thank the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for its bold action on VA appeals modernization,” Secretary Shulkin said. “I look forward to the full Senate passing the bill quickly to help us move the antiquated appeals process into the modern era, and provide Veterans with much quicker resolution of their appeals — something we have long sought”.
Following today’s committee passage, the bill will head to the full Senate for a vote possibly as early as July.
The House passed a similar bill earlier this year, but would need to pass the Senate version due to its minor changes before it becomes law.