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May 19, 2020

Tester, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Reinstate Critical 48-Hour Review Period that Ensures Veteran Representation in Disability Claims Process

Senators’ Veterans Claim Transparency Act would allow veteran representatives, attorneys, and agents 48 hours to conduct a pre-decisional review of veterans’ claims

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) led Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) in introducing legislation to ensure veterans and their representatives have 48 hours to review and dispute disability claims before they are finalized.

Earlier this year, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proposed a rule to limit representative access to veterans’ electronic files in the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), limiting a veteran’s ability to navigate the complicated claims process on their own. The Veterans Claim Transparency Act would reinstate the critical 48-hour review period to ensure accredited Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), attorneys, and claims agents have the ability to review and course correct benefits determinations, prior to VA’s final decision.

“Veterans must have a voice at the table when it comes to their disability claims and appeals,” said Ranking Member Tester. “VA’s recent move to eliminate the 48-hour rule is a thumb in the eye to any veteran relying on professional assistance to navigate the complicated claims review process, especially during this trying time. Our bill is simple— it would bring back the 48-hour review period, allowing veterans and their representatives to review and fix mistakes before they’re made final. This legislation is a necessary step in ensuring veterans who sacrificed on behalf of this nation are met with a fair and equal process.”

“This legislation protects veterans’ right to have a voice in their benefit claims process,” said Senator Blumenthal. “The administration’s new proposed rule would delay and unnecessarily burden the claims process, and deprive veterans of the ability to have a technical expert review VA’s decision on their claim. The 48-hour review period has been a vital part of the VA claims process for decades, and this bill guarantees that veterans keep this right in the future.”

“I’ve heard from Veterans across West Virginia who are upset that this rule change will erode Veterans rights,” said Senator Manchin. “Many Veterans rely on professionals to help them with the complicated claims and appeals process to receive benefits from the VA. The result of this rule change is more costly appeals and delays for our Veterans who need and deserve their benefits. Our Veterans deserve a voice, and this legislation ensures that everyone who wants representation can have it. I am proud to co-sponsor the Veterans Claim Transparency Act and look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this commonsense legislation for our Veterans who have already given so much to protect us.”

“Millions of veterans have served our nation, and they deserve the care and benefits they have earned,” said Senator Hirono. “The VA has used a process that allows independent experts to review disability rating decisions so that veterans can avoid unnecessary appeals and delays for their benefits. But without explanation, the VA changed this decades-old process. Our bill reinstates the independent review to protect fairness for veterans.”

“This is a commonsense bill that would help ensure our veterans receive the full benefits they’re entitled to and result in a more efficient VA process,” said Senator Shaheen. “I’m glad to partner with Senator Tester on this legislation that supports our veterans in obtaining benefits and improves the VA claims process. The VA’s decision to eliminate this protection for veterans was misguided and counterproductive. I encourage members on both sides of the aisle to join us in this effort that rights this wrong.”

“The VA should not have changed its process for how it considers veterans’ disabilities claims, especially in the middle of a pandemic,” said Senator Hassan. “Our bill reverses the Department of Veterans Affairs’ rule change to ensure that veterans don’t experience delays in receiving the benefits that they have earned because of small or technical mistakes in the applications that they filed.”

Various VSOs praised the Senators’ bill and highlighted the importance of alleviating pressure on veterans navigating the disability claims process.

“DAV supports the Veterans Claim Transparency Act as it would provide representatives the ability to work with VBA to identify and correct errors in VA decisions prior to final promulgation, acting as another layer of quality review for VA and veterans,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National Service Director Jim Marszalek. “DAV is disappointed with VA’s recent decision to eliminate this practice which was in place for over seven decades and we believe the Veterans Claim Transparency Act can assist in alleviating potentially thousands of new appeals and provide immediate justice for veterans and their families.”

“The 48-hour review period is an essential feature of the VA claims process,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Associate Director Matthew Doyle. “It functions as an independent quality review check on claims decisions before final ratings are sent to veterans. The VFW thanks Senator Tester for introducing this important legislation, which would rightfully reinstate the 48-hour review policy.”

"The 48-hour review period is a vital step in the VA claims process and should be reinstated immediately,” said the American Legion’s Executive Director Chanin Nuntavong. “This decades-old policy gives VSOs the opportunity to review decisions and ensure the proper adjudication of all claimed conditions. The review period is critical in ensuring that veterans do not fall victim to bureaucratic oversight and signifies a long lasting partnership between VA and the VSO community. The American Legion fully supports efforts to reinstate the policy and allow VSOs to work in partnership with VA to ensure America's veterans are properly cared for."

“AMVETS is supportive of this important legislative effort to make sure we get our veterans claims done right the first time,” said AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly. “Reinstating the 48-hour rule allows our organization time to review a veteran's disability rating before it is finalized by the Secretary. Not only has this been a longstanding normality, but it is necessary to help a veteran achieve the disability rating they deserve.”

“Paralyzed Veterans of America supports the protection of the 48-hour rule permitting VSOs to review rating determinations before they are finalized,” said Paralyzed Veterans of America Associate Executive Director for Veterans Benefits Peter Gayton. “With the Department of Veterans Affairs and VSOs working together to identify and eliminate possible errors, we can reduce delays in final decisions ensuring veterans receive their earned benefits in a timely manner.”

Tester has led the charge in Congress to ensure veterans have meaningful representation and advocacy throughout the claims process during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, he led his colleagues in urging VA Secretary Wilkie to provide veterans with the ability and resources they are owed when disputing their disability claims with the Veterans Benefits Administration.

A copy of the bill can be found HERE.

Office Contact Information

Senator Tester's Montana staff serves the state from offices in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. Please bring your concerns with federal agencies, academy nominations, and other situations to one of these Montana offices.

Billings

Judge Jameson Federal Building
2900 4th Ave N, Suite 201
Billings, MT 59101
Phone: (406) 252-0550
Fax: (406) 252-7768

Bozeman

Avant Courier Building
1 E Main Street, Suite 202
Bozeman, MT 59715
Phone: (406) 586-4450
Fax: (406) 586-7647

Butte

Silver Bow Center
125 W Granite, Suite 200
Butte, MT 59701
Phone: (406) 723-3277
Fax: (406) 782-4717

Great Falls

119 1st Avenue N, Suite 102
Great Falls, MT 59401
Phone: (406) 452-9585
Fax: (406) 452-9586

Helena

208 North Montana Avenue
Suite 104
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 449-5401
Fax: (406) 449-5462

Kalispell

8 Third Street E
Kalispell, MT 59901
Phone: (406) 257-3360
Fax: (406) 257-3974

Missoula

130 W Front St.
Missoula, MT 59802
Phone: (406) 728-3003
Fax: (406) 728-2193

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