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 Mr. Gene O’Grady, The American Legion, Department Vice Commander
Good Afternoon and Thank you Chairman Runyan and Members of the Subcommittee for the opportunity to speak on behalf of our nations heroes on such an important issue. As Vice Commander of the American Legion for this area I understand how greatly affected our veterans are by the VA’s current compensation and pension claims processing.
The examination process for claimants filing compensation or pension claims can be improved to allow for better timeliness in the adjudication process. This would require a liberalization of Title 38 United States Code to allow for the examination to be conducted by a non-VA physician or by a VA physician furnishing outpatient care.
When a claim is filed for service-connected compensation (a condition(s) alleged to be related to military service) an examination, in many cases, is conducted to establish a nexus and to determine the extent to which the condition(s) is disabling. A claim for non-service connected pension requires an examination only when the claimant is below 65 years of age.
While it may prove difficult to establish the relationship of a specific medical condition to military service in the instance where an original claim is being filed after an individual is separated from active duty for more than a year, the VA should explore this complex issue with a view toward accepting private medical evidence in lieu of conducting a compensation examination.
In cases where service connection has already been established and the veteran is filing for an increased rating based upon a worsening of the condition then some provision should be made to recognize medical evidence either from a private physician or from a VA physician in the instance where a veteran receives outpatient care at a VA facility.
Requiring a specific examination for a service connected condition in many cases is redundant and only serves to slow the claims process unnecessarily. The development of an alternative method for assessing and adjudicating medical conditions that are claimed to be related to military service or for establishing the necessary degree of disability for non-service connected pension would expedite the claims process significantly.
It is not suggested that the adequacy of determining the relationship of a medical condition to military service or the existing degree of disability should be compromised but it is believed that alternatives to a specific compensation or pension exam exist and that their feasibility for use in claims should be assessed in order to improve the timeliness of the adjudication process.
This may require the development of new forms that may be furnished to and completed and returned by physicians who are and have been treating the veteran for the condition(s) claimed. It could also take the form of utilizing VA Outpatient records in those cases where a veteran receives medical care at a VA facility. VA physicians can be trained to include specific notes or references to the veteran’s treatment record that will assist a rater in adjudicating a claim.
There are likely to be claims that will require a compensation or pension examination but with proper development it is believed that those situations can be reduced significantly with the result that timeliness will be greatly improved.