Tester Unveils Bipartisan Legislation to Consolidate and Streamline VA Disability Appeals Process

(U.S. Senate)-Senator Jon Tester today stood with veterans, advocates, and Democratic and Republican colleagues to unveil legislation that will consolidate and streamline the VA’s disability appeals process.

Tester’s bill, the VA Appeals Modernization Act, will replace the VA’s current chaotic disability appeals process with three specific and separate lanes for veterans to appeal their disability claim. Each lane is organized to most efficiently answer the concerns of disabled veterans and also establishes deadline goals for how quickly the VA can issue a final decision on the disability rating of the appealing veteran.

“Veterans are waiting in limbo too long for the benefits that they earned,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. “This bipartisan bill was built through collaboration and gives veterans different options to best fit their needs. I am confident this reform will streamline the disability appeals process, protect veterans’ due process, and save taxpayers money.”

According to the VA, over the past three years, the number of veterans appealing their VA disability rating has risen by more than 30 percent.

Currently, every veteran must go through the same appeal process and whenever new evidence is filed in support of a veteran’s appeal, it effectively hits reset on that appeal and delays the process, often by years.

Tester’s bill allows veterans to choose between three specific lanes when appealing their VA disability rating. A veteran must choose a lane within one year of their initial claim decision. Every veteran has the opportunity to enter any lane at any time, but to avoid duplication a claim can only be heard in one lane at a time. Below is a summary of each lane:

Local Higher Level Review Lane
This lane will provide veterans with the option to appeal their initial disability rating without submitting new evidence in support of their claim. This lane is designed to issue quick decisions based on the difference of opinion from a new local adjudicator. If the VA still denies the veteran’s claim, the veteran will have one year to either produce new evidence or appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals.

The New Evidence Lane
This lane will allow veterans to resubmit their appeal with new evidence that was not included in the original claim. The VA must issue a decision within 125 days of receiving the claim and if the VA still denies the veteran’s claim, the veteran will have one year to either submit additional evidence again or appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals.

The Board Review Lane
This lane will allow veterans to appeal directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals and bypass the time-consuming layers that currently exists in the VA’s disability claim appeals process. In this lane the veteran can either choose to expedite their claim with no new evidence and no board hearing, or they can choose to request a board hearing and submit new evidence in support of their claim. If the Board of Veterans Appeals denies this claim the veteran will have 120 days to appeal the decision in the Court of Veterans Claims.

Over 450,000 veterans currently have appeals pending with the VA, and 80,000 of those appeals are more than five years old.

Tester’s bill is supported by the Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“In the five years since I filed my original claim and the four years since I appealed the VA’s decision, I have spent hundreds of dollars out of my own pocket jumping through the VA hoops in the appeal process,” said Miles City Veteran Larry Dann. “We need Senator Tester’s bill to pass so no more veterans have to wait as long as I have been waiting.”

“Modernizing VA’s archaic appeals process is of the utmost priority. Over the past year, The American Legion has engaged in discussions with VA leadership, VSO’s, and private attorneys to improve the claims and appeals process,” said The American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt. “We expect both parties to work together responsibly to pass legislation which includes a simple and fair appeals process that provides veterans and their families their earned benefits in a timely manner.”

The Congressional Budget Office has reported that the VA Appeals Modernization Act is budget neutral and will not cost taxpayers any additional money.