Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Anthony A. Wallis, Legislative Director/Director of Government Affairs, Association of the United States Navy
Chairman Runyan, Ranking Member Titus and Members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN) thanks you and your Committee for the work that you do in support of our Navy, retirees and Veterans, as well as their families. Your efforts have allowed significant progress in creating legislation that has left a positive impact on our military and Veteran community.
This Committee has been, and continues to be, the starting point for legislation that provides appropriate adjustments for Veteran disability compensation rates. Last year, in April 2013, this Committee swiftly passed H.R. 569 which was later passed into law as S. 893, the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-52). This regular Veterans’ Cost of Living Adjustment Act (COLA), which increased the rate of Veterans disability compensation and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for surviving spouses and children by 1.5 percent beginning 1 January 2014, was welcomed by AUSN and the Veteran community.
AUSN is pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of this year’s bill, H.R. 4095, the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2014, and many others being discussed in today’s hearing. AUSN’s positions on the bills being discussed today are as follows:
H.R. 2018: The Honor Those Who Served Act
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a Government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any deceased eligible Veteran in any cemetery around the world, regardless of his or her date of death. The VA may also furnish a headstone or marker for graves that are marked with a private headstone or marker for Veterans that died on or after 1 November 1990. For Veterans that served prior to World War I, a grave is considered marked when a headstone/marker displays the decedents name only or if the name was historically documented in a related document, such as by a number that is inscribed on a grave block and is recorded in a burial ledger. For service during and after World War I, a grave is considered marked if a headstone/marker displays the decedents name and date of birth and/or death, even though the Veterans military data is not shown. When burial or memorialization is in a national cemetery, state Veterans cemetery or military post/base cemetery, a headstone or marker will be ordered by the cemetery officials based on inscription information provided by the next of kin or authorized representative.
Those eligible for a headstone or marker include, but are not limited to, any deceased Veteran discharged under honorable conditions and any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who dies on Active Duty. A copy of the deceased Veterans discharge certificate (DD-214 Form or equivalent) or a copy of other official document(s) establishing qualifying military service must be attached.
However, as for those applying for a headstone or marker, in 2012 the VA put into place a new regulatory barrier. Federal regulation defines “applicant” as the decedent's Next-of-Kin (NOK), a person authorized in writing by the NOK, or a personal representative authorized in writing by the decedent. Written authorization must be included with claim. Final approval from the NOK is necessary to receive a headstone for a deceased Veteran, but this may be difficult if NOK cannot be determined or is separated in family lineage or by generations.
On the other hand, there are researchers, like those at various State Historical Societies, who explore archives, death records, military records and genealogical records to determine the identity of Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers buried in unmarked graves. These groups then will work to find the NOK, but, sometimes, that is not possible when today’s headstone applicants are several generations removed from past conflicts such as the Civil War.
This bill, H.R. 2018, the Honor Those Who Served Act, introduced by Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH-15), Representative Pat Tiberi (R-OH-12) and Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH-03) would stipulate that if the NOK cannot be found then headstone applications may be filed with the VA by: the state Veterans service agency, military researchers, local historians, genealogists or others familiar with research sources or methods needed to prove a Veteran’s identity.
AUSN supports this legislation, which seeks to help streamline applications for headstones or markers, especially for those who served in many past conflicts that helped shape our nation, so they may be properly honored for their service and not recognized just because of deterioration of graves or the inability to determine the NOK. Our Veterans, current and past generations, deserve better than unmarked or deteriorated graves. AUSN supports this bill which will remedy this problem through the use of existing quality research institutions and methods in this country.
H.R. 2088: A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program to establish claims adjudication Centers of Excellence
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) receives about 1.25 million claims for Veterans disability benefits per year. As identified by the VA, for a Veteran to qualify within backlog, the claim must be waiting 125 days or more for the VA to process. As of the most recent 2014 quarterly report of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), there are over 636,000 claims pending and over 384,000 in backlog. (http://www.vba.va.gov/REPORTS/mmwr/#characteristics). It is known, however, that some of the VA’s Regional Offices (ROs) have been better suited at handling and dealing with Veteran disability claims than others, whereby some have received complaints that the personnel at these ROs have been unable to handle or, in some cases, properly file a disability claim. For instance, last month, at an RO in Seattle, Washington, VA staff was known to have interfered with an external non-VA performance review performed by a Veteran Service Organization (VSO) checking on how well the VA processes disability claims. For these prearranged visits, VSO representatives ask for a random sampling of recently processed disability claims for review with VA officials. They also meet confidentially with non-management staff to discuss any issues and concerns. However in this instance, the RO was not cooperative, and the Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL-01), asked for an investigation and assistance with external reviews. VA Regional Offices need to be improved, and those that do perform well and are cooperative in the effort to reduce the claims backlog need their efforts replicated with those ROs that fail to meet both internal VA and external review criteria.
H.R. 2088, creating Claims Adjudication Centers of Excellence , introduced by the Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Representative Michael Michaud (D-ME-02), would require the VA to boost support for the best performing Regional Offices, in order to focus additional attention on the most complex and time consuming medical conditions. In particular, the bill directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a three-year pilot program to establish 12 VA claims adjudication Centers of Excellence by selecting the three highest performing regional offices in each of the four areas of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), requiring each Center to focus on adjudicating claims relating to one medical condition selected by the Secretary. Furthermore, the bill provides for appropriate employee specialized training with respect to such medical conditions and prohibits any employee from working concurrently at more than one center. However, it allows an employee to move from one center to another, as long as the employee receives the training appropriate for that center.
AUSN recognizes and appreciates H.R. 2088’s intent to establish this pilot program in order to utilize the highest performing offices to adjudicate the most difficult medical conditions, such as Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). AUSN also is appreciative of efforts to encourage the VA to specialize claims processing by condition, reduce the time it takes to adjudicate these conditions and decrease the error rates on difficult claims within ROs. By improving the quality and specialization of claims processing at these ROs and establishing these claims Centers of Excellence, the VBA will be able to focus and see how these specialized ROs function. The VBA can then copy and implement these models for ROs that are failing in their standards and services to process claims for our Veterans.
However, AUSN believes that this pilot program should not distract from the overall goal of eliminating the claims backlog or marginalize existing ROs by shifting quality staff and Full Time Employees (FTEs) from one RO to these Centers of Excellence. As a result, AUSN believes further action on this bill should continue to be mindful of the overall goal of ending the claims backlog and improving all ROs throughout the country.
H.R. 2119: The Veterans Access to Speedy Review Act
Oftentimes, when a Veteran decides to file an appeal on a claim, the Veteran must appear before a Board of Appeals to state his or her case. In certain instances, a significant burden is placed on Veterans having to travel for appeal hearings in person. Many times, this travel comes at a great physical and financial cost to the Veteran, particularly if the Veteran resides a far distance from where the appeal hearing is being held.
H.R. 2119, the Veterans Access to Speedy Review Act, introduced by Representative Raul Ruiz (D-CA-36), would require the VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals to offer alternative sites and/ or technical modalities to Veterans for their appeal hearings, if these alternatives allow earlier scheduling of the hearing than otherwise would be scheduled. In order to ensure a Veteran can have their appeal at the earliest possible date, the bill requires the Board of Veterans Appeals to determine whether to hold the hearing at its principal location or at another VA facility or other Federal facility and then whether the Veteran must be present or can attend through the use of videoconferencing. It also provides the Veteran making the appeal the freedom to request a different type of hearing or a different time or location.
AUSN supports H.R. 2119, which seeks to provide more options to Veterans to ease the process of appealing a claim by making available additional means by which a Veteran can appear before a Board of Appeals. This is allowed through the use of expansion of available locations for such an appeal to occur or through teleconferencing capabilities. As a result, according to the VA, this legislation would reduce costs for both the VA and Veterans. In addition, AUSN supports language changes through an amendment being offered whereby, “If so requested, the Board SHALL grant such requests and ensure that the hearing is scheduled at the earliest possible date without any undue delay or other prejudice to the appellant,” thus providing more flexibility for the Veteran when addressing his or her claims appeal.
H.R. 2529: The Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act
H.R. 2529, the Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act, amends the definition of “spouse” for purposes of Veterans benefits provisions to require an individual to be considered a spouse if the marriage of the individual is valid in the state or territory in which the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any state or territory, if the marriage is valid in the place in which the marriage was entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a state or territory.
AUSN, at this time, does not take a position on H.R. 2529 due to insufficient feedback from our own membership.
H.R. 3671: Amending Title 38 United States Code (USC) to expand the eligibility for a medallion furnished by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to signify the Veteran Status of a deceased individual
Currently, Section 2306(d)(4) of Title 38, United States Code, provides that, when requested, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs will provide an appropriate government headstone, marker or medallion at the expense of the United States for certain Veterans. From 18 October 1978 until 31 October 1990, the VA paid headstone and marker allowances to surviving families for purchase of private headstones and markers on behalf of Veterans who were interred in private cemeteries in lieu of the VA providing a government headstone or marker. This benefit was eliminated on 1 November 1990; accordingly, from 2 November 1990 through 11 September 2001, whereby the VA paid no assistance in the purchase of a private headstone or marker for Veterans qualified for burial in a national or state Veterans’ cemetery. Between 2001 and 2006, as a pilot program, the VA provided government headstones and markers to qualifying Veterans regardless of whether or not they had privately purchased a headstone. In 2007 the VA made this program permanent and included a medallion as an alternative option, retroactive to 1 November 1990 for those Veterans who died on or after that date to affix the medallion to a grave marker.
Today, many Veterans and their loved ones do not understand why they do not qualify for the medallion, leaving the 1 November 1990 date as just an arbitrary starting point for the new medallion affixation benefit. Accordingly, the VA has submitted a request in the form of a legislative proposal to remove the 1 November 1990 date as a requirement for eligibility for a medallion to be requested to be affixed to an existing headstone or marker.
H.R. 3671, introduced by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL-01), which would expand the eligibility for the medallion to be furnished by the VA for all Veterans whose families wish to have a medallion recognizing Veteran status affixed to an existing headstone or marker. This would also eliminate the 1 November 1990 date which is the current existing ‘benchmark’ for qualification for the medallion. In an October 2013 briefing with the VA’s Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, Mr. Steve L. Muro, the eligibility issue for the medallion benefit was further discussed, including the 1 November 1990 date of eligibility. Under Secretary Muro reiterated the VA’s support for eliminating this date in order to qualify for this benefit. Accordingly, Chairman Miller’s bill, H.R. 3671, would remedy this situation.
AUSN supports H.R. 3671, which eliminates the 1 November 1990 date of eligibility and expands the qualifications for affixing a Veteran status medallion to an existing Veteran headstone or marker. AUSN is happy to join other Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), as well as the VA which has previously expressed support for eliminating the ‘on or after’ date of 1 November 1990 to qualify for a Veteran status medallion for a headstone or marker.
H.R. 3876: The Burial with Dignity for Heroes Act of 2014
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has stated that the nation’s homeless Veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 8% being female. The majority of homeless Veterans are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/ or substance abuse or co-occurring disorders. About 12% of the total adult homeless population is Veterans. Roughly 40% of all homeless Veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. Veteran population, respectively according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Homeless Veterans are also younger on average than the total Veteran population, with approximately 9% between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% between the ages of 31 and 50. On the other hand, only 5% of all Veterans are between the ages of 18 and 30 and less than 23% are between 31 and 50.
How many homeless Veterans are there? Although flawless counts are impossible to come by, the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty. However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has estimated that 57, 849 Veterans are homeless on any given night. Approximately 12,700 Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) were homeless in 2010. In addition, about 1.4 million other Veterans are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. As a result of the transient nature of homeless populations and lack of proper identification or information, it is difficult to determine next-of-kin (NOK) when a homeless Veteran has passed. There are institutions, however, that exist to help honor and recognize the service of deceased homeless Veterans, such as the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program (http://www.dignitymemorial.com/en-us/about-us/one-thousand-veterans-burial.page). The Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program has provided military burials and services for homeless and indigent Veterans since 2000 and has worked with National Veterans Cemeteries around the country to provide more than 1,000 Veterans with the recognition and honor they are due.
H.R. 3876, the Burial with Dignity for Heroes Act, introduced by Representative Al Green (D-TX-09) along with Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL-5) and Representative John Lewis (D-GA-5), would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a program to make grants to eligible entities to provide for the cost of burials for homeless Veterans who: (1) are eligible to be buried in a National Cemetery and (2) are determined by the Secretary to have no next-of-kin (NOK).
AUSN recognizes and appreciates the intent of H.R. 3876, however, it remains uncertain as to the impact the legislation would have upon the VA and its resources, especially in the determination and availability of grant money to fund the program. Despite this concern, AUSN is sympathetic to the important issue of providing for proper burials and memorials for our nation’s homeless Veterans and looks forward to ensuring that those deceased homeless Veterans get the recognition of their service, sacrifice and honor that they so deserve. AUSN stands ready to help remedy this problem, as well as the challenges faced to combat Veteran homelessness.
H.R. 4095: The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Act of 2014
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) receives about 1.25 million claims for Veterans disability benefits per year. As it exists today, a disability rating is assigned a percentage by the VA after a physical examination for all areas of the body for which the Veteran is claiming disability. However, a cash benefit is only provided to Veterans with a rating of 10 percent or more. The basic benefit amount ranges from $127 to $2,769 a month, depending on the disability rating. However, given the economic situation faced by many of our Veterans, this compensation may not be adequate to meet their needs, as costs of living continue to rise. The unique circumstances that arise in the retirement years of a career servicemember, especially if those servicemembers suffer from service-connected disabilities or other ailments that require dependency or indemnity compensation (DIC), often require that their benefits be adjusted to the ever rising cost-of-living. Annual COLA increases are necessary to ensure that our nation’s servicemembers’ retirement benefits reflect the current fiscal environment.
AUSN was pleased to see S. 893, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) Act, companion legislation to H.R. 569, passed into law (P.L. 113-52), whereby the rates of Veterans disability compensation was increased by 1.5%, beginning 1 January 2014. Although this was a great step to continue to improve Veteran benefits, these annual COLA bills consume a significant amount of Congress’ time every year. Although not specified in this hearing, instead of having to return to the issue over and over again, AUSN applauds the mission of H.R. 4096, the American Heroes COLA Act of 2014, formerly H.R. 570, sponsored by Representative Jon Runyan (R-NJ-06), which would make the annual adjustments automatic based, on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and increases in benefits under the Social Security Act. The rates of disability compensation for Veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of DIC for survivors of certain service-connected disabled Veterans would become an automatic increase, which would save Congress time by alleviating an annual issue that is usually passed with little to no opposition, and it protects Veteran benefits from being delayed by possible Congressional delays, which have become a very real issue in the past few years.
In lieu of a permanent solution, AUSN supports H.R. 4095, the Veterans’ Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Act of 2014, introduced by Representative Jon Runyan (R-NJ-06) and Representative Dina Titus (D-NV-01), which would provide for an increase, effective 1 December 2014, in the rates of compensation for Veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of DIC for the survivors of certain disabled Veterans. This legislation continues to provide the quality of life guarantees made to our nation’s servicemembers and their dependents.
H.R. 4102: A bill to Amend Title 38, United States Code, to clarify that the estate of a deceased Veteran may receive certain accrued benefits upon the death of the Veteran
Current law states that only a Veteran’s spouse or children under the age of eighteen are entitled to receive retroactive Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability benefits compensation in the event of a claimant’s death. Unfortunately, history has shown that 2.6 percent of Veterans with pending VA disability benefits claims die while waiting on the completion of the claims process. One example of this concerning trend is the experience that Indianapolis Veteran, Sgt. 1st Class Shelton Hickerson, USA (Ret.) had. He initially filed a claim in 2000 but was denied benefits. Mr. Hickerson decided to appeal the decision. Eventually, after waiting more than 10 years for a decision regarding his appeal, Mr. Hickerson was awarded his claim for 100% disability; however, he died the same day his appeal was approved. Consequently, his daughter, Sharon, was not eligible to receive any compensation on behalf of her father due to the fact that she was over 18 and not otherwise dependent upon her father.
H.R. 4102, a bill introduced by Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL-01) and Representative Jackie Walorski (R-IN-02), would allow for a Veteran’s estate to be awarded VA payments consistent with the general principles of estate law. In addition, the bill would correct the wrong done to the Hickerson family by directing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to pay to the estate of Shelton Hickerson the sum of $377, 342, representing the amount that the Secretary awarded to Shelton Hickerson on the date of his death that was not payable to any survivor or his estate.
AUSN wholeheartedly supports H.R. 4102. It is imperative that Congress continue to improve upon the ways our Veterans are compensated for providing such a valuable service to the nation by ensuring this scenario which happened to the family of Sgt. 1st Class Shelton Hickerson never happens again. VA claims compensation should continue to be made on or after the date of the Veteran recipient’s death, payable to their estate and rightful beneficiaries. This legislation is the least our nation can do to bring some comfort to the families of Veterans who are laid to rest before their VA claim is finalized.
H.R. 4141: A bill to amend Title 38 United States Code (USC) to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into enhanced use leases for excess property of the National Cemetery Administration that is unsuitable for burial purposes
Currently, governing Enhanced Use Leases (EULs), long a method for the VA to make productive use of underutilized property, was changed in 2012 to make homeless Veterans and Veterans at risk of homelessness the sole beneficiaries of the program. Beginning in 1991, Congress gave the VA the authority to enter into EULs with outside developers to improve, maintain and make use of VA property for a period of time. The arrangement was made possible as part of the Veterans Benefits Programs Improvement Act (P.L. 102-86). Until 2012, the VA was able to enter into any lease that furthered the mission of the VA and enhanced the use of the property or that would result in the improvement of medical care and services to Veterans in the geographic area. The maximum lease term was 75 years, and the VA was to charge “fair consideration” for the lease, including in-kind payment. While EULs involved non-housing purposes (e.g., child care centers, golf courses and parking facilities), a number of the EULs awarded prior to 2012 involved housing for homeless Veterans. In 2012, as part of the Honoring Americas Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act (P.L. 112-154), Congress limited the circumstances under which the VA may enter into EULs to “the provision of supportive housing.” Supportive housing is defined as housing combined with supportive services for Veterans or their families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Among the types of housing that qualify are transitional, permanent and single room occupancy housing, congregate living, independent living or assisted living facilities. Leases that were entered into prior to 1 January 2012, will be subject to the law as it previously existed. While the VA does not have to receive consideration for an EUL under the amended law, if it does receive consideration, it may only be “cash at fair value” and not in-kind payment. Each year, the VA is to release a report about the consideration received for EULs.
H.R. 4141, introduced by Representative Ander Crenshaw (R-FL-04), would enable the use of excess property of the National Cemetery Administration, deemed unsuitable for burials, for the use of building memorials that support the mission of the VA. It authorizes organizations to request the use of land on National Cemeteries to include the creation of memorials and pavilions paid for by private funds.
AUSN recognizes and appreciates the intent of H.R. 4141, legislation that will honor our fallen and past Veterans and provide space for their loved ones to gather and reflect. It is important to remember our Veterans, as our nation moves past over a decade of war, and provide their families with opportunities within organizations to build memorials that show respect for the honor, courage and commitment of their loved ones. Additionally, the ability of organizations to build memorials would enhance the education of generations to come on scarifies made by their forefathers in service to our nation.
However, it is unclear to AUSN regarding the criteria the National Cemetery Administration uses to define ‘unsuitable for burials,’ and we question if it is ‘unsuitable’ for burials, how such land might be suitable for other purposes. Additionally, AUSN is unclear at this time whether the bill would impact current EUL language regarding combating homeless Veterans and the costs to the VA for allowing outside organizations to enter into lease agreements on land overseen by the National Cemetery Administration.
H.R. 4191: The Quicker Benefits Delivery Act
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) receives about 1.25 million claims for Veterans disability benefits per year. As identified by the VA, for a Veteran to qualify within the claims backlog, they must be waiting 125 days or more for the VA to process their claim. As of the most recent 2014 quarterly report of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), there are over 636,000 claims pending and over 384,000 in backlog. (http://www.vba.va.gov/REPORTS/mmwr/#characteristics). For example, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the average wait time for Veteran filing a claim for the first time in a St. Paul, Minnesota regional office is 180 days! Although the VA has stated that it hopes to end the claims backlog by 2015, the complexity of claims, the high volume of submissions and the oftentimes inaccurate, incomplete or insufficient medical records or evidence that the VA has to determine is valid and sufficient for a Fully Developed Claim (FDC) results in delays and adds to the backlog. Veterans file an FDC for an injury, disability or condition believed to have occurred or been aggravated by military service or a condition caused or aggravated by an existing service-related condition. The VA, however, oftentimes requires that the Veteran go into a VA hospital to get evaluated in order to submit a disability claim, for an FDC for example, whereby the Veteran will oftentimes experience long wait times, delaying the final claims process even further.
H.R. 4191, the Quicker Benefits Delivery Act, builds off of last year’s bill, H.R. 1980, both introduced by Representative Tim Walz (D-MN-01), which would amend Title 38, United States Code (USC), to improve the treatment of medical evidence provided by non-Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical professionals in support of claims for disability compensation under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The bill, in the form of H.R. 4191, would enable those who have medical evidence of their ailment from a non-VA medical professional that is deemed ‘sufficiently complete’ to have their claims reviewed by the VA regarding their full disability compensation under the Acceptable Clinical Evidence initiative. In the bill, the VA is also directed to accept private medical evidence for the completion of disability claim, whereby such evidence shall be used for a ‘sufficiently complete’ claim that is competent, credible, probative and containing such information as may be required to make a decision on the claim. Finally, the bill requires a report by the VA on the progress of the Acceptable Clinical Evidence initiative and the number of claims eligible for the initiative by each fiscal year, further improving Congressional oversight of the VA.
AUSN supports H.R. 4191, since it seeks to help end the backlog of claims by conserving VA resources and enabling quicker, more accurate decisions for Veterans by allowing private medical evidence documentation that is competent, credible, probative and otherwise adequate for rating purposes to be used when supporting a claim. This legislation removes bureaucratic red tape by allowing Veterans to see local doctors for their initial diagnosis and avoid long wait times at VA hospitals.
AUSN continues its efforts to support legislation that seeks to help end the claims backlog by streamlining efforts within the VA. It is important that every reasonable action by the VA and Congress be taken to ensure that Veterans receive the benefits they have earned through their sacrifices in a timely and effective manner. AUSN continues to make this a top priority, and we will continue to push, pressure, publicize and prioritize the disability claims backlog issue until there is a successful conclusion to ending the VA claims backlog.
We firmly believe that many of these bills will benefit our nation’s Veterans and honor their commitment and service to this country. In addition, we look forward to hearing of their future success and consideration during this session of Congress and we are available to help answer any and all questions. AUSN stands ready to be the Voice for America’s Sailors, abroad and upon their return home, and looks forward to working with Congress and the VA on serving our Veterans.