Tester, Rounds Call for VA to Expand Rural Veterans’ Access to Appeal Hearings

Senators Call for VA to Open Local VA Facilities for Disability Benefits Appeal Video Hearings

(Big Sandy, Mont.) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) are fighting to make it faster and easier for rural veterans to appeal their claims for disability benefits within the VA.

Tester and Rounds are calling on the VA and Board of Veterans’ Appeals to make sure that rural veterans are able to appeal their disability rating using video hearings in local VA facilities when they can’t travel hundreds of miles to be at their hearing in person or at a video hearing at a VA Regional Office.

Under the Senators’ bipartisan Veteran Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, which guarantees veterans have a speedy and thorough appeal of their disability rating, veterans can take advantage of video hearings at certain VA facilities. For veterans in rural states like Montana and South Dakota, this often means still traveling great distances to a Regional Office when there are other VA facilities that are closer but do not currently offer video hearings.

“Not all veterans have the ability to travel and appear at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in person when they believe that a detrimental mistake has been made on their claim,” the Senators wrote. “Unfortunately, in many rural states, like Montana and South Dakota, veterans are still forced to drive a considerable distance to a qualified location for video hearings. Traveling a great distance for a video hearing or a greater distance for an in person hearing are not acceptable options when it comes to veterans’ right to a fair and speedy appeal. The VA has a duty to dedicate considerable effort to finding solutions to this issue that will better serve the needs of rural veterans.”

In a letter to Board of Veterans’ Appeals Chairwoman Cheryl Mason, the Senators urged her to work with the VA to identify facilities in addition to VA Regional Offices that are suitable to hold video hearings, such as Community-Based Outpatient Clinics, Vet Centers, or field offices.

Currently a veteran living in Scobey, Montana, would have to travel over 450 miles to the Regional office in Fort Harrison for a video hearing, when the telehealth clinic in Plentywood, which is already equipped with video capabilities, is about 40 miles away. Likewise, a veteran in Rapid City, South Dakota would have to travel about 350 miles to the Regional Office in Sioux Falls when there is a VA Clinic in their community.

The Senators’ letter can be read online HERE.