gettyimages 837985594 Heres how veterans groups are responding to the VA law President Trump signed in Reno

US President Donald Trump sign the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act into law at the American Legion national convention on August 23, 2017 in Reno, Nevada. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

By Jonathan Kaupanger

Veterans groups are reacting to President Trump’s August 23 signing of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act.

The president put his signature to the legislation during the National Convention of the American Legion in Reno, Nevada.  It overhauls the process for appealing decisions about whether veterans are provided certain benefits, and at what levels.  The new law was developed cooperatively by the Department of Veterans Affairs and veteran service organizations.

“We’ve seen a really great effort out of the Senate and House Vet Affairs committees. People talk about how government should work in the US and I think these two committees are an example of bipartisanship,” said Joseph Plenzler, Director of Media Relations for the American Legion.  “They have really come together to push forward legislation advantageous to veterans.”

“That’s why we’re here today,” said President Trump before signing the new law. “But to fulfill our patriotic duties, we must take care of our great veterans.”

The new law gives veterans three new ways to appeal a claims decision. They can now seek a higher-level review by a regional office and use the same evidence they gave to the original claim.  The second option gives vets the ability to file a supplemental claim and include additional evidence that wasn’t included with the original information.  The last new option gives veterans the ability to appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, resulting in a possible hearing or the opportunity to submit additional evidence.

There are a few safeguards built into the new law as well, including current pending appeals must now be acted upon as quickly as possible. The Government Accountability Office is required to review the VA’s plan for addressing all pending appeals and implementing the new appeals system.  This new law gives the VA the authority to test parts of the system on a small scale – after the new system has been approved by GAO.

The Secretary is now required to certify to Congress that the VA has the correct resources to start a new system as well as address pending and new appeals in a timely manner before the new system can take effect. The VA is also required to report data regarding the old system so it can be compared to the new system in order to gauge the success of the new process.

Other important aspects of the new law protects the effective date of a benefits award by dating back to the original filing of the claim, if the veteran files a supplemental claim after a decision from the US Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims. If a claim is returned for a correction of an error, the VA is now required to provide expedited treatment for the veteran.

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) completes more than one million disability claims each year; about 12% of those claims are appealed. Currently, there are approximately 338,076 claims pending with the VA.  An additional 83,018 claims are backlogged, which means they have been waiting for a decision for more than 125 days.  According to the VA, the average processing time for resolving appeals in 2016 was three years.  VBA is expected to complete 1.4 million claims in 2018.

Here’s a roundup of VSOs’ responses to the new Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization law:

Got Your 6

The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act addresses many long-standing frustrations and challenges experienced by veterans in dealing with the current disability claims appeals process. Comprehensive appeals modernization has been a long-standing priority of the entire veteran community and Got Your 6 applauds Congress, Secretary Shulkin, and the Trump Administration for working together to address the VA’s need for a modernized appeals process, which puts veterans first. — Lauren Augustine, Got Your 6 Director of Government Relations

Paralyzed Veterans of America

“The new Appeals Improvement and Modernization Law represents a major step toward ensuring justice for the veterans, dependents, and survivors who believe in their entitlement to a denied benefit. These people aren’t asking for a handout; they simply want fairness and timely review when they file an appeal.

Paralyzed Veterans of America fights on behalf of some of the most catastrophically disabled veterans with the most complex claims in the system, and our unrivaled expertise is often challenged by a labyrinthine, protracted review process where a growing backlog coupled with inconsistent and arbitrary decisions hurt those who rate the benefits they’re pursuing. For those appellants who choose to file without an accredited representative, it’s nearly impossible to get a fair decision. We commend the Department of Veterans Affairs for hearing our concerns and working with us to preserve due process as we worked together to develop new and improved standards. This new law is a culmination of those efforts. It is also a significant win for President Trump and Secretary Shulkin, both of whom are keeping their promise to veterans with the passage of the law.” – Sherman Gillums, Jr., Executive Director

Veterans of Foreign Wars

“This is the culmination of more than a year’s hard work by the VFW, partner VSOs, Congress and VA to build consensus on how to better serve veterans seeking to access their benefits. From the VFW, former National Veterans Service director Jerry Manar and training and quality assurance manager Lauren Barefoot took part in a series of intense meetings with VA designed to craft this new framework. Though the last Congress was unable to pass the new framework, the VFW worked closely with the new Congress to make this a reality.

The VFW’s accredited advocates who work with veterans every day know many of their clients will be better served under this new framework. In the old system, appeals could take up to five years to adjudicate and veterans had no way out. Status quo was unacceptable, so we acted with a unified voice. We look forward to working with VA to make sure this new framework results in timely, understandable, and accurate benefit decisions for veterans.“  Ryan Gallucci, Director, VFW National Veterans Service

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