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Witness Testimony of The Honorable Joe Donnelly, U.S. House of Representatives

Chairman Runyan and Ranking Member McNerney, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss my bill before the DAMA Subcommittee today. 

After closely working with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Disabled American Veterans last Congress, I have reintroduced H.R. 2377, The Rating and Processing Individuals’ Disability (RAPID) Claims Act, along with Rep. Geoff Davis of Kentucky.  The bill currently has 31 bipartisan cosponsors, and it received 105 cosponsors last Congress.

The goal of The RAPID Claims Act is to improve the disability claims process for our nation’s veterans, something we all agree is necessary.  In 2008, Congress passed The Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act (P.L. 110-389).  Included in the bill was the Fully Developed Claim (FDC) pilot program, which allows veterans filing fully developed claims to waive the lengthy development period and receive expedited consideration.  FDC was originally a one-year pilot program conducted at ten VA Regional Offices, and, due to its success, VA announced that it would implement the program nationwide. 

I support VA’s decision to rollout this program nationwide; however, I would like to see FDC become law with a couple small improvements.  The RAPID Claims Act would codify FDC while also modifying it to protect a veteran’s effective date for disability compensation and ensuring a veteran who mistakenly files an unsubstantially complete claim in FDC is given fair notice what further evidence is needed to complete the claim.

When participating in the normal claims process, a veteran can submit a claim at any time—marking the claim’s effective date—and the veteran still has up to a year to gather evidence.  However, a veteran seeking to participate in FDC may gather evidence independently, preventing an establishment of an effective date for that veteran’s disability compensation.  This evidence period can take months or up to a year, costing a veteran hundreds or even thousands of dollars in missed benefits.  The RAPID Claims Act would allow a veteran gathering evidence for a fully developed claim to mark an effective date for his or her compensation by notifying VA that a fully developed claim is forthcoming.  Marking this effective would help ensure that the veteran’s compensation is made retroactive to an appropriate date.

Additionally, some veterans will submit claims through FDC that VA will decide do not qualify for the program for a number of reasons, including missing evidence.  If VA determines that a claim submitted through FDC is ineligible, I am concerned VA may not immediately notify the veteran of what is needed to substantiate the claim.  If VA processes the claim before notifying the veteran, this could lead to incomplete and unsatisfactory results for the veteran, causing more appeals and longer processing periods for veterans.  The RAPID Claims Act would modify FDC to require VA to notify and assist the veteran to help substantiate such claims.

Finally, The RAPID Claims Act also has a provision targeted at the appeals process.  The bill would require that the VA Appeals form is included with the Notice of Decision letter, instead of waiting for a veteran to exercise his or her appeal rights before sending the form to the veteran.  I believe this is a simple courtesy VA could extend to our nation’s veterans.

Once again, thank you Chairman Runyan, Ranking Member McNerney, and my subcommittee colleagues for the opportunity today to highlight what I feel are simple solutions to help improve the disability claims process for our veterans.  While we have achieved much on behalf of our veterans in recent years, I think we all agree further steps are needed to reduce the wait times faced by veterans and to simplify the process.  Thank you.