Senator Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) introduced the “Department of Veterans Appeals Modernization Act” (S. 712) to overhaul the broken appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA has more than 450,000 disability claims on appeal for service-connected disability benefits. Veterans who have filed and are dissatisfied with claims decisions written by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), can appeal first to VBA and then to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The Government Accountability Office recently released a report (GAO-17-234) warning that, if no action is taken, veterans may have to wait an average of 8.5 years by 2026 to have their claims resolved because of redundancies and inefficiencies in the appeals process. The legislation would give veterans clear options after receiving an initial decision by consolidating the current appeals process into three distinct tracks:
• Local Higher Level Review: This lane would provide the opportunity for a quick resolution of the claim by a higher-level adjudicator at the VA Regional Office. This lane would be a good option for veterans who are confident they have all the evidence necessary to win their claim.
• New Evidence: This lane would be for submitting new evidence at the VA Regional Office. This would serve as a good option for veterans who believe they can succeed on their claim by providing additional evidence.
• Board Review: In this last lane, intermediate steps currently required by statute to receive Board review would be eliminated. Furthermore, hearing and non-hearing options at the Board would be handled on separate dockets so these distinctly different types of work can be better managed.
Members are urged to contact their Senators to support this important legislation. For more information, contact Sandra at the Veterans Service Office at 602 Strong Ave on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 3pm, or call 365-3612.