(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are introducing bipartisan legislation today to tackle the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) claims backlog and provide veterans with timelier access to their earned benefits. The Senators’ bill received strong backing from VA during a Committee hearing last month.
The Senators’ Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2021 would bolster employee recruitment for the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and improve VA’s scheduling of veterans’ medical disability exams by increasing communication between contractors conducting disability exams, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), and attorneys assisting veterans with their claims.
“When it comes to receiving the support they’ve earned, veterans need to know their claims will be fairly, accurately and quickly decided,” said Chairman Tester. “Our bipartisan bill will make it easier for folks to obtain their VA benefits, by cutting down the timeline for processing claims, increasing transparency over the process, and reducing backlogs across a system that was created to efficiently serve those who served us.”
“Our nation’s veterans deserve a VA system that provides access to their earned benefits in a timely and reasonable manner,” said Ranking Member Moran. “These changes and improvements to the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals would help hire and retain quality staff at VBA and the board, make improvements to the veterans disability claims process and increase access to medical disability examinations for veterans who live abroad. I appreciate working with Sen. Tester in leading these reforms to improve the veteran experience within the department and the board.”
Among its many provisions, the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act will:
- Require the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to set up a competitive internship program to attract high-performing law students, and a competitive “honors program” to provide certain incentives for high-performing 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 establishing contact with a veteran to schedule an exam;
- Instruct VA to improve the Department’s outreach efforts and work with veterans groups to educate veterans on how contract disability exams are scheduled; and
- Authorize the Department to provide instant, electronic notification of claims decisions—allowing for quicker delivery of benefits, especially amidst COVID-related mail delays.
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, Associate Director, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). “The VFW supports the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2021 which addresses the claims backlog 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 provide an option for veterans to receive electronic notifications, avoiding delays with regular mail. It would also create recruiting incentives to attract more attorneys to the Board of Veterans Appeals. The VFW thanks Senator Tester and Senator Moran for addressing this important issue to ensure that veterans receive their earned benefits in a timely manner.”
“Vietnam Veterans of America fully supports the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2021,” said Greg Nembhard, Benefits Director, Vietnam Veterans of America. “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.”
“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.”
“MOAA applauds Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran’s multi-pronged approach to addressing the claims backlog veterans are facing,” said Lieutenant General Dana T. Atkins, President and Chief Executive Office, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). “The Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2021 makes important changes that will help veterans get their claims processed faster by supporting veterans and all personnel involved in the adjudication process.”
“Ensuring that the Department of Veterans Affairs has the resources it needs to efficiently and accurately process veterans’ claims for benefits is essential to providing top quality service to our nation’s veterans,” said Jose Ramos, Vice President of Government and Community Relations, Wounded Warrior Project. “The Veterans Benefits Improvement Act is an important step toward improving the claims process and we are thankful to Senators Tester and Moran for their diligent work on this issue.”
“The National Association of County Veterans Service Officers (NACVSO) supports the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2021,” 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.”
“At our 2021 National Convention, AMVETS members voted to pass resolution 22-04 to improve VA claims and appeals,” said Joseph Chenelly, Executive Director, AMVETS. “We urge Congress to ensure adequate funding and trained staff levels for the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve upon the timeliness and accuracy of all claims and appeals being filed. AMVETS is supportive of the bipartisan Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2021. This bill is a step in the right direction to improving the claims backlog and ensuring high quality service to all veterans. In addition to this legislation, we also urge Congress to fully support the National Personnel Record Center in order to deplete the backlog.”
“The American Legion is proud to support the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2021 on behalf of our 1.8 million members, and we thank Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran for their diligent work to ensure all veterans receive their earned VA benefits in a timely manner,” said Paul Dillard, National Commander, The American Legion.
Full text of the Senators’ Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2021 can be found HERE.