Leahy Joins In Introducing Bill To Overhaul VA Health System Appeal Process

Leahy And 9 Other Senators
Introduce Bill To Overhaul The Veterans Health System Appeal Process

(WEDNESDAY, Sept. 14, 2016) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is among ten senators who this week introduced legislation to reform the appeals process for veterans benefits. The bill is sponsored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and cosponsored by Leahy and Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Patty Murray (D-WA).

Because of redundancies and inefficiencies in the current process, most veterans wait years for decisions on their appeals. The new bill (the Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act) would replace the current appeals process – which today stands at more than 450,000 appeals awaiting decisions – with one that Leahy and the other senators said is simple, fair and transparent.

Leahy said: “I’m proud to be part of the effort to modernize the Department of Veterans Affairs appeals process, a reform that is extremely important to veterans in Vermont and across the nation. This bill is the product of the experience and recommendations of veterans, to revolutionize the appeals process and to more quickly get to veterans the benefits they need and were promised. Improvements that make a difference in veterans’ experience with the VA health system deserve to be and must be a high priority for Congress.”

Blumenthal said: “The current appeals process for veterans benefits is a quagmire that no longer serves veterans and their families. Without reform, thousands of our nation’s veterans will continue to languish for years without receiving a fair and just consideration of their appeal, and denied access to the benefits they need and deserve. Today, I am proud to introduce legislation that is the product of true collaboration between all stakeholders – with this kind of rare consensus, I am confident that we can send a clean appeals reform bill to the President’s desk this year.”

The legislation introduced Wednesday would give veterans clear options after they receive an initial decision by consolidating the current appeals process into three distinct tracks:

  • Local Higher Level Review: This lane would provide the opportunity for a quick resolution of the claim by a higher-level adjudicator at the VA Regional Office. This lane would be a good option for veterans who are confident they have all the evidence necessary to win their claim.
  • New Evidence: This lane would be for submitting new evidence at the VA Regional Office. This lane would serve as a good option for veterans who believe that they can succeed on their claim by providing additional evidence.
  • Board Review: In this last lane, intermediate steps currently required by statute to receive Board review would be eliminated. Furthermore, hearing and non-hearing options at the Board would be handled on separate dockets so these distinctly different types of work can be better managed.

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