Congress is again taking on what has been a daunting effort to shorten a veteran’s average 3-year, appeals-process wait for government benefits, Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, is pledging he will work with his Senate counterpart, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., to have a reform bill passed this year, the outlet reported.
“At the end of the day, we either continue the current system and live with extraordinarily long waits, we can appropriate a lot more money and hope that clears the system up or we can try a new system that [the VA] says is timely, transparent and fair,” Roe said last week, Stars and Stripes reported.
“I’m ready to try a timely, transparent and fair system over what we have. I look forward to getting this across the finish line this year.”
According to a report last month, the Government Accountability Office found a backlog of veterans’ claims for benefits would grow to 1 million in the next decade, with veterans waiting more than eight years for a decision on an appeals claim, if nothing changes, Stars and Stripes reported.
“For years, we’ve been struck in the same place, afraid to ask out of fear we’ll make a wrong decision,” Veterans of Foreign Wars representative Ryan Gallucci said last week at a House Committee on Veterans’ Affair hearing, Stars and Stripes reported
“If we stay put, the situation will never improve. That’s unacceptable.”
Stars and Stripes reported new legislation, the “VA Appeals Modernization Act of 2017,” would create more options for veterans appealing their claims – including allowing them to take their appeal directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals, or to request a higher-level VA adjudicator. It also would ensure new evidence could be submitted on a claim without causing further delays.
Though VA officials and members of the VFW and Disabled American Veterans have all been supportive, as has the American Legion, another veterans group is strongly opposed, Stars and Stripes reported.
“It is widely understood that the appeals process is in need of urgent reform, and to do nothing would be unacceptable,” the Vietnam Veterans of America said in written testimony submitted last week.
“[H]owever, VVA urges Congress to not replace the current broken system with an equally flawed plan simply because it is too daunting to redesign a plan that directly addresses the problems facing the appeals process today.”
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