MARIETTA, Ga. – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today highlighted broad support for the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, bipartisan legislation he introduced to overhaul the woefully outdated benefits claims appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The VA’s current appeals process is in desperate need of updating, and nearly half a million veterans are in limbo because of the VA’s existing backlog. Between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2017, the number of pending appeals increased from approximately 380,000 to 470,000 – a more than 20 percent increase.
To improve the process, Isakson’s measure would create three separate paths for veterans to choose from when seeking redress from a decision by the Veterans Benefits Administration on their claims for VA benefits. Many veterans currently awaiting a decision on existing appeals will have the ability to opt-in to one of the new paths that best fits their needs.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs passed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 on June 28, and the bill now heads to the full Senate for a vote.
The bill was introduced by Isakson and Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on May 3, and has the support of 24 other Republican and Democrat senators. Additional co-sponsors of the legislation include U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Steve Daines, R-Mont., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Dean Heller, R-Nev., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Tim Kaine, D-Va., Angus King, I-Maine, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Jon Tester, D-Mont., John Thune, R-S.D., Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Mark Warner, D-Va.
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 is supported by VA Secretary David Shulkin and VA state directors around the country. This legislation has also won the support of several veterans groups that represent millions of veterans in the United States.
Supportive statements are included below:
The Department of Veterans Affairs
“I want to thank the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee for its bold action on VA appeals modernization. I look forward to the full Senate passing the bill quickly to help us move the antiquated appeals process into the modern era, and provide veterans with much quicker resolution of their appeals - something we have long sought.” – VA Secretary David Shulkin
The National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs
“S. 1024, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, is a model of meaningful and well thought out bipartisan legislation for our nation’s veterans. The product of nearly two years of work and cooperation between members of both the U.S. Senate and House and their staffs, VA, Veterans Service Organizations and advocates, it superbly takes into account and balances needs of many stakeholders; most importantly, America’s veterans and tax payers. The new law, once enacted, will make a real difference in getting disability and compensation appeals decisions in a more timely manner, while maintaining due process for veterans. It would be an understatement to say that this landmark bill (S. 1024), once passed, will be one of the most historic pieces of veterans legislation in recent history.” - Randy Reeves, President, National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs
The American Legion
“On the behalf of the 2.2 million members of The American Legion, we thank Senators Isakson and Blumenthal for drafting legislation aimed at helping veterans expedite appeals to their VA disability claims with the goal of reducing wait-times to less than a year. We have been working intimately with this committee for over a year on this effort and are satisfied that this bill will enhance veterans rights, modernize and expedite the appeals process, and ultimately reduce costs through greater efficiency. We thank both the Senate and House of Representatives for working together in a bipartisan manner to assist the fine men and women who have proudly served our nation. The American Legion supports this legislation as currently written and looks forward to its passage. The Legion will work tirelessly throughout the year to ensure this program is successful, and help veterans understand the changes in law and how they will be able to succeed.” - Charles E. Schmidt, The American Legion National Commander
Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)
"Appeals modernization is long overdue and it is imperative that Congress pass this important legislation. With more than 1,900 accredited representatives around the world, representing nearly 500,000 veterans in prosecuting their benefit claims before the VA, the VFW can attest to how the new appeals framework would better serve veterans. Congress must act to ensure veterans receive the benefits they have earned in a timely manner. The VFW appreciates the chairman's strong commitment to veterans." - Brian Duffy, National Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.
Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
“DAV strongly supports the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 as a means of improving the efficiency and accuracy of the claims and appeals process for veterans. Lengthy delays in the decision-making process are not only unacceptable, they unnecessarily force veterans to wait for their earned benefits. This is an historic opportunity to enact significant reform that not only drastically improves the adjudication process, but will also protect veterans’ rights. DAV thanks Chairman Isakson, Ranking Member Tester and Senator Blumenthal for their continued support of this issue, and we urge enactment of appeals reform this year.”– Dave Riley, DAV National Commander
American Veterans (AMVETS)
“AMVETS applauds the introduction of, S. 1024, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. It is refreshing when such a thorough piece of bipartisan and bicameral legislation is introduced. If passed, this measure will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of veterans stalled and stuck in the broken appeals process. AMVETS is pleased that this bill addresses the input of a variety of stakeholders; that it protects the effective date of a benefits award; and that it further refines and improves the process to accomplish in an average of 125 days what is currently taking up to 1,825 days (5 years).” - Joe Chenelly, AMVETS National Executive Director
Paralyzed Veterans of American (PVA)
"Forcing paralyzed veterans to wait years for a decision on an appeal is unconscionable, particularly in cases where the veteran ultimately prevails. As Paralyzed Veterans of America worked over the past year to build a system characterized by timelier and more accurate decisions, we applaud those who stood with us to ensure expediency did not come at the expense of justice for veterans who live with some of the most severe conditions, such as spinal cord dysfunction and traumatic brain injury. This reform protects due process rights for veterans with the most complex issues, and puts veterans across the country on a faster path to receiving the benefits they've earned by virtue of their service to our country." - Gabriel Stultz, Legislative Counsel, Government Relations, Paralyzed Veterans of America
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 115th Congress. Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the armed services as well as more than 750,000 veterans.