Esty, Blumenthal Announce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Modernize VA Appeals Process
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) today announced bipartisan, bicameral legislation -- the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 -- that will overhaul the current appeals process at the 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.
“By overhauling the VA appeals process, this bipartisan legislation would dramatically shorten the average wait time for an appeal from five years to 125 days. This streamlined process would provide veterans with timely, accurate answers on their appeals so they can access the benefits they need and deserve. I’m proud to introduce this critical bill with Senator Isakson, and I’ll continue fighting until the VA’s appeals process is worthy of the heroes it serves,” Blumenthal said.
"When the brave men and women of our military return home from their service, they deserve to receive the benefits they were promised in a timely manner,” Esty said. “And yet in Connecticut and across the country, appeals claims are backing up. When a veteran asks my office for help appealing their claim, it is deeply frustrating to have to explain that the process could take more than five years. We have to do better. This legislation is a good, bipartisan step forward to cut down on these delays, attack the looming appeals backlog, and, most importantly, put our veterans first."
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 would create three separate paths for veterans to choose when seeking redress from a decision 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 processor;
• 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.
The bill was introduced in the House today by Esty and Representative Mike Bost, R-Ill. Blumenthal and Senator Isakson (R-GA), who is in Georgia today as he continues to recover from two recent back surgeries, will introduce the Senate-version of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 as early as Wednesday, May 3. A one-page summary of the legislation can be found here.