(U.S. Senate) – Continuing their push to ensure veterans’ timely access to earned benefits, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) recently introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims and appeals process for veterans.
The Senators’ Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023 would bolster employee recruitment and retention for the Board of Veterans Appeals to address its increasing caseload and cut down appeal wait times. It would also streamline VA’s scheduling of veterans’ medical disability exams by increasing communication between contractors conducting the disability exams, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), and attorneys assisting veterans file for benefits.
“Our nation’s veterans deserve a VA system where their claims are fairly, accurately, and quickly decided,” said Chairman Tester. “That’s why we introduced our bipartisan bill to strengthen the claims and appeals process and increase transparency over it—making it easier for our men and women who served to receive the benefits they’ve earned.”
“If VA isn’t able to process claims in a timely manner, veterans may be left without their benefits, which enable them to provide for themselves and their families and live an independent life,” said Ranking Member Moran. “This legislation will be an additional tool to improve the disability claims process, as VA’s backlog numbers continue to increase. VA must eliminate delays and deliver veterans their benefits on time, and this bill will give them the added resources and authorities to do so.”
Among its many provisions, the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023 would:
- Establish a competitive internship program at the Board of Veterans Appeals for high-performing law students, and a competitive honors program to recruit high-performing law school students, recent graduates, and 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 scheduling medical disability exams; and
- Instruct VA to improve the Department’s outreach efforts by working with veterans groups to educate veterans on how contract disability exams are scheduled.
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, Deputy Director, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). “The VFW supports the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023 which addresses the claims workload 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 require VA to publish DBQs on a public website and list any forms the VA Secretary has excluded. It would also create important recruiting incentives to attract more attorneys to the Board of Veterans Appeals. The VFW thanks Senator Tester and Senator Moran for addressing these important issues to ensure that veterans receive their earned benefits in a timely manner.”
“Vietnam Veterans of America fully supports the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023,” said Jack McManus, President, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). “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.”
“MOAA stands firmly behind the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023, recognizing the urgency of addressing the challenges our veterans face in obtaining their well-earned benefits," said Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, President and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). "This comprehensive legislation echoes our commitment to expedite the claims process, enhance communication between veterans and their representatives, and improve the systems that adjudicate these critical benefits. We extend our gratitude to Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran, for their dedication to ensuring our veterans receive the support they've earned in a timely and efficient manner.”
“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.”
“The National Association of County Veterans Service Officers (NACVSO) supports the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023,” 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.”“VA's benefits management system must be modernized to meet the escalating workload of veterans’ claims,” said Chanin Nuntavong, Executive Director of Government Affairs, The American Legion. “By requiring the publication of all disability benefit questionnaire forms and mandating increased communication between VSOs and disability examination providers, the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2023 is an important step toward meeting the demands of our veterans. The American Legion is proud to support this legislation and commends Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran for their diligence in ensuring all veterans receive their VA benefits in a timely manner.”