WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today applauded the unanimous Senate passage of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, bipartisan legislation he introduced to modernize the woefully outdated benefits claims appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“I applaud the Senate for passing this critical legislation,” said Isakson. “For too long our veterans and their families have faced unacceptable delays during the VA’s benefits claims appeal process. I urge the House of Representatives to follow suit and pass this bipartisan measure to help ensure we get veterans a response to their appeals in a timely manner.”
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.
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 was introduced by Isakson on May 3, 2017, and is cosponsored by 31 senators: U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Robert Casey, D-Pa., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Steve Daines, R-Mont., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., 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, John Hoeven, R-N.D., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Angus King, I-Maine, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Jon Tester, D-Mont., John Thune, R-S.D., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
Following today’s Senate passage, the measure, H.R.2288, which originated in the U.S. House of Representatives, heads back to the House as amended for a vote on final passage.
Isakson highlighted broad support for the measure from VA Secretary David Shulkin, VA state directors around the country, as well as from several veterans’ advocacy groups that represent millions of veterans in the United States.
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 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. It would also allow certain veterans already going through the appeals process to opt in to the new system. The bill would give the VA secretary the authority to test facets of the new system prior to full implementation and would also require the VA to provide a comprehensive plan for both implementing the new system and processing the existing appeals.
Under the new process, veterans dissatisfied with the initial decisions on their claims will be able to:
- Seek a higher-level review by a regional office on the same evidence presented to the original claims processors;
- File a supplemental claim with a regional office that would include the opportunity to submit additional evidence; or
- Appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, resulting in a possible hearing and/or the opportunity to submit additional evidence.
A one-page summary of the legislation can be found here.
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 forces as well as more than 750,000 veterans.