March 23, 2017

Van Hollen Introduces Legislation to Overhaul Broken VA Appeals Process

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen joined Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jon Tester (D-MT), and a group of 16 Senators in introducing legislation to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs' broken appeals process. The process has not been updated since 1933, and more than 450,000 appeals are currently pending. Because of redundancies and inefficiencies in the current process, most veterans wait years for a decision on their appeals. By replacing the current process, the Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act would expedite appeals before the Board of Veterans Appeals and give veterans clear options after receiving an initial decision.

"The VA appeals backlog is unconscionable. Our veterans deserve the best possible care - and timely and fair resolutions to claims disputes so that they know that the VA is working for them," said Senator Van Hollen. "This bill will overhaul the appeals process to finally tackle the backlog and replace our outdated system with one that works for today's veterans."

The legislation introduced today 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 lane would serve as a good option for veterans who believe that 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.

Senators Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are original cosponsors of the legislation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act is a reintroduction of S. 3328 from last Congress, which was supported by the Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, the Military Officers Association of America, the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers, and the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs.

The Government Accountability Office today released a report warning that, if no action is taken, veterans may have to wait an average of 8.5 years by fiscal year 2026 to have their appeals resolved. The report highlights inefficiencies in the current process and recommends the process is significantly reformed-as the legislation the Senators introduced today would do.