Tester, Colleagues Urge Transparency in VA Disability Claims Process During COVID-19 Outbreak

Senators request updated guidelines from VA to ensure robust oversight for veterans participating in compensation and pension exams

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester is leading the call for more transparency and accountability as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suspends in-person compensation and pension (C&P) exams for veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie today, Tester and his committee colleagues pressed the Department to outline its plans for transitioning to virtual C&P exams during the ongoing crisis and issue updated guidelines to ensure veterans seeking disability compensation are met with a fair and transparent process.

“The Department must issue clear guidance to its Regional Offices (ROs), those who perform C&P examinations and potential beneficiaries so that veterans are not needlessly confused or harmed during this unprecedented time,” wrote the Senators. “For example, we were disappointed to learn that veterans, including those in high-risk health groups, were still required to go to C&P exams until early April, exposing themselves to unneeded risk and potentially putting their health in jeopardy. Veterans should not have been unnecessarily forced from their homes during this COVID-19 pandemic.”

Emphasizing the importance of conducting virtual exams during the pandemic, the Senators pushed the Department to provide Congress with its plans to provide assistance to low-income or rural veterans—with limited access to reliable broadband, internet, or smart phone capabilities—so that they may participate in their appointments remotely. They also requested that VA provide information on their appointment deferment and cancellation policies.

They continued, “Veterans are normally cautioned to not miss their scheduled C&P exams because it can cause delay in the adjudication of their claims as they wait for new appointments. However, during a pandemic we cannot continue operating business-as-usual. It is critical for VA to have reasonable expectations of veterans for completing examinations during this time. As such, we need additional information about VA’s new process and procedures for C&P exams.”

The Veterans’ Affairs Committee members also called for more transparency and oversight in the C&P exam tracking process, by requesting a weekly update on the number of veterans undergoing examinations and how those examinations are being conducted.

Tester has been leading the effort in Congress to better protect veterans and their benefits during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. He called on VA to extend waivers for veterans filing paperwork related to their disability benefits claims, and joined his Republican counterpart on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to push VA to use its regulatory authority to grant waivers or extensions for veterans applying for benefits during the pandemic.

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.