Senate committee moves to speed up yearslong VA appeals process

by Nikki Wentling, Stars and Stripes

WASHINGTON – The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday unanimously passed on voice vote a bill that aims to speed up the process of getting veterans their earned benefits – a task that now takes between three and six years on average if a veteran is forced to appeal a benefits claim that is denied.

The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, or S. 1024, would create three paths for veterans to appeal their claims, including the ability to take their appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals or request a higher-level Department of Veterans Affairs adjudicator to decide the case. It also requires the VA to improve how the agency notifies veterans about the status of their appeals. Some veterans have criticized the VA for going years without giving them an update.

“It requires veterans to get answers if they have not gotten appeals responded to. It forces the VA to submit to us and the [Government Accountability Office] a plan to modernize how they handle appeals,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the committee. “So it’s not just a prospective bill, but it covers those 470,000 people who have been waiting and languishing, one of them 25 years, to get an answer.”

The bill will now be sent to the full Senate, and it’s uncertain when it could be scheduled for a vote. The House passed similar legislation May 23.