(U.S. Senate) – The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing today to solicit feedback from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) on 21 pending veterans proposals—including four priorities authored by Chairman Jon Tester to tackle the growing claims backlog, improve rural veterans’ disability medical exams, strengthen oversight of VA, and bring parity to National Guard and Reservists’ education benefits.
During the hearing, Tester highlighted his Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2021, a proposal to increase communication between contractors conducting disability exams and VSOs and attorneys assisting veterans with their claims—allowing more transparency and timelier processing of benefits. The Senator questioned VA officials on his proposed outreach program—a key measure to make disability exam scheduling more efficient.
“The claims backlog is nothing new…but there are many provisions of the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act that I do think will cut the timeline for processing these claims,” said Chairman Tester. “For example, this [proposal] is going to require an outreach program that explains to veterans how federal contractors will schedule disability exams, and what kind of information they will be asked. Can you talk about this outreach, and will it save time, and will it potentially prevent fraud?”
“Yes, we support this section of the bill,” replied Brianne Ogilvie, Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Policy and Oversight of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). “[P]roactive contact has been very helpful…we think that the examinations scheduling will definitely be improved by involving their representatives who they already know and trust to make sure that scheduling is done.”
Tester also pressed VA officials regarding provisions under his Reform and Update Rural Access to Local (RURAL) Exams Act of 2021—bipartisan legislation to increase transparency of the medical disability examination program and authorize VA to offer contract examiners incentives to provide better service to rural and housebound veterans.
The Committee additionally heard from VA and stakeholders on the Chairman’s Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act of 2021 and Guard, Reserve, and Active Duty VA Educational Assistance Parity Act.