Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21) helped the House pass six pieces of legislation to help our nation’s veterans, including H.R. 2288 – the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. This bipartisan legislation would address the current backlog of appeals for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims.
“Each day, my offices are proud to work on behalf of the veterans of our district who often struggle to receive the benefits they need from the VA,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “But the system needs to be reformed to give our North Country heroes the peace of mind they deserve. I am proud to support this important reform to help the VA move through their backlog so that our veterans can quickly receive the benefits and care they have earned.”
When a veteran files a claim for a disability they believe is caused by their military service, VA will issue a rating decision, which either grants or denies the claimed disability and assigns an evaluation of disability level. If a veteran disagrees with VA’s decision, they may file an appeal with VA and move their claim through several levels of the appeals process.
Unfortunately, VA’s current appeals process is broken. Between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2017, the number of pending appeals increased from approximately 380,000 to 470,000 – more than a 20 percent increase. Between fiscal years 2013 and 2016, Congress appropriated nearly $200 million more than the president’s request to address the appeals backlog. Despite the infusion of resources, VA estimates that it will take at least five years just to resolve the appeals currently pending.
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 would create three “lanes” for veterans’ appeals, including the “Local Higher Level Review Lane” in which an adjudicator reviews the same evidence considered by the original claims processor; the “New Evidence Lane,” in which the veteran could submit new evidence for review and have a hearing; and the “Board Lane,” in which jurisdiction for the appeal would transfer immediately to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
The bill would give the Secretary the authority to test the new system prior to full implementation and would allow some veterans already going through the appeals process to opt into the new system. It would also require VA to provide a comprehensive plan for how the new system will be implemented and a subsequent certification by the Secretary that the department is prepared to roll-out the reform. Lastly, the bill would require the Secretary to submit periodic reports to Congress, including information on how many appeals are pending in both the modernized system and the legacy system.
In addition to this legislation, Congresswoman Stefanik helped the House pass:
1) H.R. 1005 – To amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the provision of adult day health care services for veterans
2) H.R. 1162 – No Hero Left Untreated Act
3) H.R. 1329 – Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2017
4) H.R. 1545 – VA Prescription Data Accountability Act
5) H.R. 1725 – Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act of 2017