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Bost, Esty Lead Introduction of Bipartisan, Bicameral Appeals Modernization Legislation

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Today, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Chairman Mike Bost (R-Illi.) and Ranking Member Elizabeth Esty (D-Ct.) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to modernize the appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who is in Georgia today as he continues to recover from two recent back surgeries, plans to introduce companion legislation in the Senate along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) as early as Wednesday, May 3. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-Minn.) are original cosponsors of the House bill.

The members released the following statements:  

"I am proud to introduce this long-overdue legislation to provide veterans with a streamlined process to have their appeals decided in a timely manner," said Bost. "As of March 1, 2017, 470,000 veterans are still waiting on a decision from VA. This is unacceptable, and I thank President Trump and Secretary Shulkin for making appeals reform a priority for this administration." 

"When the brave men and women of our military return home from their service, they deserve to receive the benefits they were promised in a timely manner,” said Esty. “And yet in Connecticut and across the country, appeals claims are backing up. When a veteran asks my office for help appealing their claim, it is deeply frustrating to have to explain that the process could take more than five years. We have to do better. This legislation is a good, bipartisan step forward to cut down on these delays, attack the looming appeals backlog, and, most importantly, put our veterans first."

"For too long our veterans and their families have faced unacceptable delays during the VA’s disability claims appeal process,” said Isakson. “This legislation, created with input from the VA and veterans groups, overhauls the current appeals process and puts in place a new system that is more transparent and allows veterans to choose the option that is right for them. I look forward to working with stakeholders and my colleagues to advance appeals reform legislation to ensure that veterans do not continue to experience long delays when seeking benefits from the VA.”

“By overhauling the VA appeals process, this bipartisan legislation would dramatically shorten the average wait time for an appeal from five years to 125 days. This streamlined process would provide veterans with timely, accurate answers on their appeals so they can access the benefits they need and deserve. I’m proud to introduce this critical bill with Senator Isakson, and I’ll continue fighting until the VA’s appeals process is worthy of the heroes it serves,” said Blumenthal. 

"I thank Subcommittee Chairman Bost and Ranking Member Esty for taking the lead on this important issue on behalf of the House, and I appreciate Chairman Isakson leading the way in the Senate," said Roe. "There's no question VA's current appeals process is broken. This new system would help VA move through the backlog of appeals so veterans waiting on their disability decision can have peace of mind."

“When it comes to serving veterans, there is absolutely no room for partisanship; for that reason, I commend Chairman Bost and Ranking Member Esty for their bipartisan leadership in advancing this critical legislation to modernize VA’s claims processing capabilities,” said Walz. “Ensuring every veteran’s claim is processed in a timely and transparent manner has been one of our highest priorities on the Committee, and this commonsense legislation takes us one major step forward in accomplishing that goal.”

Background:

The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 would create three “lanes” for veterans’ appeals, including the “Local Higher Level Review Lane” in which an adjudicator reviews the same evidence considered by the original claims processor; the “New Evidence Lane,” in which the veteran could submit new evidence for review and have a hearing; and the “Board Lane,” in which jurisdiction for the appeal would transfer immediately to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

The bill would give the Secretary the authority to test the new system prior to full implementation and would allow some veterans already going through the appeals process to opt into the new system. It would also require VA to provide a comprehensive plan for processing legacy appeals.

This legislation is co-sponsored by every member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

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