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Tester, Moran Lead Bipartisan Push to Improve the Claims Process for Veterans

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Tester, Moran Lead Bipartisan Push to Improve the Claims Process for Veterans

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee leaders’ bill would provide veterans timelier access to earned benefits

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

(U.S. Senate) – Continuing their push to ensure veterans’ timely access to earned benefits, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) recently introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims and appeals process for veterans.

The Senators’ Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023 would bolster employee recruitment and retention for the Board of Veterans Appeals to address its increasing caseload and cut down appeal wait times. It would also streamline VA’s scheduling of veterans’ medical disability exams by increasing communication between contractors conducting the disability exams, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), and attorneys assisting veterans file for benefits.

“Our nation’s veterans deserve a VA system where their claims are fairly, accurately, and quickly decided,” said Chairman Tester. “That’s why we introduced our bipartisan bill to strengthen the claims and appeals process and increase transparency over it—making it easier for our men and women who served to receive the benefits they’ve earned.”

“If VA isn’t able to process claims in a timely manner, veterans may be left without their benefits, which enable them to provide for themselves and their families and live an independent life,” said Ranking Member Moran. “This legislation will be an additional tool to improve the disability claims process, as VA’s backlog numbers continue to increase. VA must eliminate delays and deliver veterans their benefits on time, and this bill will give them the added resources and authorities to do so.”

Among its many provisions, the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023 would:

  • Establish a competitive internship program at the Board of Veterans Appeals for high-performing law students, and a competitive honors program to recruit high-performing law school students, recent graduates, and entry-level attorneys;
  • Enhance VA’s Disability Benefits Questionnaires to help veterans save time during the claims process by allowing them to fill out the forms in advance;
  • Require VA contractors to contact a veteran’s representative, in addition to the veteran, when scheduling medical disability exams; and
  • Instruct VA to improve the Department’s outreach efforts by working with veterans groups to educate veterans on how contract disability exams are scheduled.

Numerous VSOs applauded the Senators’ bipartisan effort to improve the claims process and provide veterans with timely benefits.

“The pandemic created disruptions within the VA disability claims process, causing issues with compensation and pension exams and creating delays on multiple fronts,” said Kristina Keenan, Deputy Director, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). “The VFW supports the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023 which addresses the claims workload through a variety of initiatives. It would require disability exam contractors to improve their communications with veterans and their claims representative to schedule exams. It would require VA to publish DBQs on a public website and list any forms the VA Secretary has excluded. It would also create important recruiting incentives to attract more attorneys to the Board of Veterans Appeals. The VFW thanks Senator Tester and Senator Moran for addressing these important issues to ensure that veterans receive their earned benefits in a timely manner.”

“Vietnam Veterans of America fully supports the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023,” said Jack McManus, President, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). “This legislation, when enacted, will empower service officers with the tools and resources necessary to provide effective support to veterans and their families. Additionally, the development of an electronic notification system will require access to these resources and will foster greater transparency, timeliness, and accurate delivery of benefits, allowing service officers to see, in real-time, decisions and other notifications being transmitted to veterans and their family members.”

“MOAA stands firmly behind the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023, recognizing the urgency of addressing the challenges our veterans face in obtaining their well-earned benefits," said Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, President and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). "This comprehensive legislation echoes our commitment to expedite the claims process, enhance communication between veterans and their representatives, and improve the systems that adjudicate these critical benefits. We extend our gratitude to Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran, for their dedication to ensuring our veterans receive the support they've earned in a timely and efficient manner.”

“With the current backlog of claims and appeal hearings, it is imperative that we continue to seek meaningful reform of the veterans’ benefits system,” said Randy Reese, National Service and Legislative Headquarters Executive Director, Disabled American Veterans (DAV). “DAV supports the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act as it would not only allow veterans to receive VA notifications electronically but will also takes steps toward modernization and streamlining processes within the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Board of Veterans Appeals.”

“The National Association of County Veterans Service Officers (NACVSO) supports the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023,” said Michael McLaughlin, Legislative Director, NACVSO. “NACVSO applauds the provisions in this Act that would require communication between VA disability examiners and a Veteran’s representing Power of Attorney. This increase in communication between the physicians and professional Veteran’s advocates like NACVSO, will help to alleviate confusion, reduce missed disability exams, and improve the timeliness for delivery of veteran’s disability benefits. Additionally, this Act would work towards identifying ways to improve communication between VA and their local government equivalents at the State, Tribal, County and Municipal levels which is greatly needed to ensure that no veteran falls through the cracks.”

“VA's benefits management system must be modernized to meet the escalating workload of veterans’ claims,” said Chanin Nuntavong, Executive Director of Government Affairs, The American Legion. “By requiring the publication of all disability benefit questionnaire forms and mandating increased communication between VSOs and disability examination providers, the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023 is an important step toward meeting the demands of our veterans. The American Legion is proud to support this legislation and commends Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran for their diligence in ensuring all veterans receive their VA benefits in a timely manner.”



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Man, I hate to be a buzzkill, but we get these "types" of VA "improvement"Bills 

frequently, especially just before election time..  Politicians get a pat on the back from the VFW, and it helps nothing.    Im from Missouri, and say, "show me", dont tell me how much you will improve.  

  If there were great ways of improving the process, why hasnt VA already done them?  

Congress has not mandated:


Process Veterans claims as slow as possible, with as many delays as possible, along with as many delay causing glitches as possible.  But VA has largely succeeded with that anyway.  

The result is often the same ol same ol.  HERE is the one in 2017, which didnt improve the process, but it did improve 

the number of confused Veterans, confused VA employees, confused VSO's and even confused attorneys.  I did not see

an improvement..the delays are similar or worse than prior to 2017. 

https://benefits.va.gov/benefits/appeals.asp#:~:text=The Veteran Appeals Improvement and,Appeals Modernization Act (AMA).

The VA's answer to congress is always the same:  Send us more money and we will improve the process.  And it feels like

Veterans are in a programming loop, where they provide va more money, and VA manages to mismange the new money in the same way they mismanaged the old money.  




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I will add the VA's motto has been "do less with more money".  

Instead, they need to do more with less money.  They are not interested in that, they want more money from congress to do less. 

Remember, we have fewer Veterans than we did just a few years ago.  I recall having around 26million Vets, (about year 2000) and I think we are down to around 16 million Vets.  If you like charts on this gradual Veteran decrease, its explained here.

https://usafacts.org/topics/veterans/#:~:text=In 2021%2C there were 16.5 million veterans in the US.&text=The Census Bureau's American Community,duty in the armed forces.

My math shows thats about  10 million fewer Vets, needing fewer services.  Deceased Vets need very few benefits.  Why does the VA not do something with the money they saved providing fewer services on 10 million Veterans?  Remember, disability compensation stops when the Veteran dies, and there is very limited benefits to survivors.



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@broncovet Does that 16 million account for all living vets or just the ones in the VA system?

I am scratching my head about the "high-performing law students" because most law students do not have any free time for anything, let alone working at the VA. Also, most would likely rather intern at highly profitable and established law firms.

I liked the part about forcing the VA to post all DBQ's and other forms which are hidden from the public. They should also post all the older C&P worksheets which were used for decades prior to being replaced by the new DBQs.
  I found an exam in my c-file where the listed were findings under number/letter combos like 3A, 3B, 4A, etc.... like they were providing an answer, but without ever specifying a question. The VARO could not figure out what questions were being asked for each answer. I happened to have found a copy of the exam questions in my c-file and sent a FOIA request asking for it and other worksheets. After a year, the VA came back and said they could not provide them. Those would be very helpful for Nehmer and PACT act vets  who served ages ago, or anyone who files a CUE.

They really do need to consider adding some additional things like:

- Updating the VA compensation pay scale to accurately reflect the true amount of increased inflation, including retroactive reimbursement for prior years.

- Require the VA to clearly state in the decision letters the veteran's classification like P&T or TDIU. Vets should not have to dig through a lengthy award letter hoping to see Chapter 35 or CHAMPVA mentioned.

- Instant publication of C&P exam results on va.gov or Blue Button on myhealthevet.

- Allow veterans direct and real-time online access to their records in VBMS with the ability to download their c-file on demand.

- Restoration of veterans ability to file NODs instead of closing claims and forcing the vet to get back in line by submitting a supplemental, HLR, or BVA request.

- Allow vets to file for disabilities diagnosed during a C&P exam when the examiner failed to opine either for or against SC; allow any awards or EEDs retroactive to the date of the exam.

- Instead of forcing a vet to submit new claims in writing, allow the veteran's subjective statements documented in C&P exams to be interpreted as a new request for new and/or retroactive benefits.

- Refine the CUE process to allow use medical opinions when SC status was denied for closed claims.

- Get rid of the claim closed/finalization dates which reset the clock for EEDs and prevent vets from receiving retroactive EEDs or compensation payments.

- Eliminate expiration dates on intent to file claims.

- Prevent the VA life insurance department from being able to reinterpret the term "permanent and totally disabled". Vets should not be declined life insurance and/or waivers for being P&T.

- Make EEDs and retroactive payments based on the earliest date of diagnosis in the records, even if the vet was on active duty (they suffered through it until they got out), instead of when the veteran files a claim for all claims old or new.

- Allow use of a additional alternate combined rating calculation option where the percentages are added together with increased pay scales for vets over 100% without reducing current compensation rates.

- Pay interest on all retroactive compensation awards, new or those already paid. The tax man charges us if we are late in filing or paying, so this would only make sense.

- Exempt 100% P&T vets from paying Federal income taxes if they are still employed.

- Exempt all SC veterans and their spouse from the burden of paying any Federal estate/death/inheritance tax.

- Instead of paying survivors DIC, simply continue the existing SC payments.

- Give SC veterans a health/dental/mental health card they can use to seek care when and where they need it, but without any copays or deductibles. Vets with 10 to 40% ratings would be covered for specific disabilities plus any emergency room costs. 50%+ vets would get covered for everything. Make this card applicable to all medical/dental/mental health providers without allowing them to opt out like they can with Medicare.

- Allow a one-time payoff of an existing VA home loan. This is just like the VA student loan discharges for 100% P&T or TDIU vets, plus don't forget the Federal employees who have worked for 10 years in government or certain job roles. The purpose of discharging those loans was to reduce the financial burden upon the veteran.

Of course, the reality of any of this coming to fruition is probably zero...

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Every year or two Congress announces a new overhaul to the VA disability claims process system to better help veterans with timely claims decisions.  And still the backlog and delays continue.  HO HUM !!


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THE most important "fix" for VA is:



STOP making it profitable for VA to delay us.  

Yep, VA needs a deadline to begin with.  If they cant complete the claim in 60 days, then they have to pay interest to the Veteran.  Watch those claims fly out the door rather than VA getting penalties.  

Of course most of those will be denied, as they are now.  

How does VA make money with delays? 

1.  Often, the Veteran gives up and never gets his money.  

2.  The Veteran dies, or is too weak to persue the claim.  

3.  EVEN "IF" the Veteran eventually gets paid years down the road, the Veteran has loaned "desperately needed money" to VA at zero percent interest rate.  All this, while charging other veterans interest at 7 percent or more on VA loans.  

Try being late with the IRS taxes.  "Oh, I could not get my taxes done as I did not have all the information".   Too bad, pay the IRS penalty.  This is VA's number one excuses..they could not make a decision timely, as they needed more information.  (C and P exams, medical records, service records, etc.).  

     Remember, with the IRS "there is no excuse" for filing late.  Yes, you can file an extension, but those extensions run out quickly.  

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