(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) are spearheading bipartisan legislation to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) collection of medical evidence to streamline veterans’ access to earned disability benefits.
Earlier this year, VA removed public access to forms known as Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs)—condition-specific forms with critical medical information relevant to veterans’ disability benefits claims. The Senators’ Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act would restore DBQs on VA’s public-facing website to provide veterans and non-VA providers with easier access to their disability compensation claims and reduce the claims backlog. Their bill would also increase oversight by requiring VA to provide an annual report to Congress on any VA Inspector General findings related to future DBQ use.
“Veterans have sacrificed life and limb on behalf of our freedoms—and we need to make it easier, not harder, for them to access information critical to obtaining their hard-earned benefits,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “By simply placing the questionnaires back on VA’s public-facing website, our bipartisan bill would provide veterans and their medical providers with seamless access to disability forms necessary in developing their claims. And, it would take steps to protect veterans by strengthening VA’s ability to prevent, detect, and minimize the risk of fraud—all while reducing backlogs in a system created to efficiently serve those who served us.”
“We are grateful to the men and women who sacrifice so much in service to our country,” said Rounds. “When they begin the transition to civilian life after their service is over, we want to make sure they have all the resources and information possible to access the benefits they are owed. Our legislation would put the VA’s Disability Benefits Questionnaires back on a public-facing website for easier access by veterans and their non-VA doctor. We believe this would restore a commonsense practice that makes the process of assessing disabilities simpler and more efficient for our veterans.”
The Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act is supported by a number of Veterans Service Organizations, including Disabled American Veterans (DAV), The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), and the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers (NACVSO).
“DAV fully supports the Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act as it will restore the public use DBQs to their original purpose, allow all veterans to have access to enhance the development of their own claim and address the timeliness of updating DBQs,” said DAV National Service Director Jim Marszalek. “When VA changed this policy earlier in the year, it created a disparity between those who could access a DBQ and those who could not. The Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act would correct those inequities.”
“For more than a decade, VA physicians and private medical providers used DBQs to supplement evidence in support of disability claims," said VFW Deputy Director Matthew Doyle. "This April, VA removed public-facing DBQs from its website, thereby preventing private medical providers and veterans from accessing these forms. The VFW supports this legislation, which would rightfully require VA to publish public-facing DBQs on its website.”
"PVA thanks Senator Tester and Senator Rounds for their efforts to reinstate VA's public facing disability questionnaires,” said PVA Associate Executive Director for Government Relations Heather Ansley. “Passage of the Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act of 2020 would help ensure veterans have equal and transparent information when filing a claim."
“When departing service, we need to ensure a fair and transparent claims system which empowers veterans as they reintegrate into society,” said MOAA President and CEO Lieutenant General Dana Atkins. “Putting DBQs behind a firewall creates an inequity to veterans who are not represented by a Veterans Service Organization or would like to receive an assessment with a private physician who understands their unique health situation. Senators Tester and Rounds plan to reinstate public-facing DBQs is a common-sense approach with the necessary oversight to ensure veterans are not being defrauded. MOAA is proud to support the Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act of 2020.”
“All too often, veterans’ claims are denied because they lack a medical opinion,” said VVA National President and CEO John Rowan. “The DBQ is an essential tool that allows veterans the ability to add medical opinions in support of their claims for VA benefits. All veterans should have access to this form so they may provide evidence in support of their claim in a standardized format.”
“NACVSO applauds the introduction of Senator Tester’s Veterans Benefit Improvement Act of 2020,” said NACVSO President Herman Breuer. “DBQs were an important tool used for addressing the VA claims backlog, and to deny public access to them would be irresponsible. This format allows the veteran to address VA’s questions concerning their disability and to provide an accurate account of the service injury from their own medical provider. DBQs accomplish this so effectively that in some instances they can suffice for the Compensation and Pension examination, a process that currently costs the VA millions of dollars each year. Making these DBQ forms available to the public is good for the veteran, for the agency and for tax payers.”
A copy of the Senators’ bill can be found HERE.