House OKs overhaul of VA appeals in bid to cut claims backlog

WASHINGTON – The House easily approved legislation Tuesday to cut the time it takes for the Department of Veterans Affairs to handle appeals by veterans unhappy with their disability payouts, an attempt to a rapidly growing claims backlog without adding billions in costs for the government.

Currently, veterans could wait five or more years to resolve their appeal. The VA previously warned you would need the money for “hiring of peaks” of the government in the fiscal year beginning next Oct. 1 or be faced with a backlog, now at 470,000, that would grow to 1 million within a decade.

The bill would revise the current VA appeal process, long described by the VA Secretary, David Shulkin, and his predecessors, such as “broken”. It allows veterans to file “express” of appeal if they waive their right to be heard or the opportunity to submit new evidence. The VA can test the new program for up to 18 months to Shulkin could say that he was ready for a full roll-out with enough money to manage the appeal effectively.

Lawmakers hope that the legislation could ultimately reduce the average waiting time is less than a year.

The vote was 418-0.

Trump ‘ s budget proposal released Tuesday calls for a 3.7 percent increase in the total funding VA, one of the few agencies planned to get more money in the midst of large budget cuts to other agencies. But the largest part of the VA increase will pay for the rising cost of healthcare, while the non-health programs to be trimmed or kept at almost the same level as in 2017. Shulkin has warned that as a result of a tightening Trump administration budget, future increases to the VA budget can not be adopted.

The department provides $63.7 billion in disability compensation each year about 4.1 million veterans with disabling conditions incurred during their military service.

“The current system is slow, cumbersome, frustrating, and full of bureaucratic red tape,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “These veterans are bills to pay and families to support. …The changes in this bill will make a difference and help to accelerate the process, so that veterans can get a decision on their appeal, and then move on with their lives.”

It now goes to the Senate, where both republicans and democrats introduced legislation.

The bill was one of the seven VA-related bills approved by the House before it leaves Thursday for a weeklong Memorial Day recess.

Also passed were bills that would ensure VA compliance with good planning practices, increase the cost-of-living adjustment for veterans receiving disability compensation and expand access to adult day health care. They would also set up a pilot project with new technology for the treatment of psychological trauma, require a wider reporting of VA prescription data, and supports the local doctors outside the VA system to conduct disability medical examinations. These measures will also go to the Senate.

Under the handicap of appeal bill, the VA would have to develop detailed plans for an update of the IT systems and training for the full implementation of the new program. The bill would also require the VA to work with the largest veterans ‘ organizations to ensure that the department had adequate money and personnel. Some veterans with appeals at this time to be worked on would be allowed to choose for the new process.

The VA generally supports the measure, although it has expressed concern that it may not be able to certify it, has the necessary funding so far in advance, since it relies on annual appropriations from the Congress. At the end of last year, the VA said it would require “the hiring of peaks” to prevent an appeal of a backlog that could lead to a waiting time of 10 years, but since the stresses must be a revision of the process.

“We have to essentially billions of dollars in extra appropriations … or should we change the law,” Dave McLenachen, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration appeals management office, said during a House hearing this month.

The board of appeal account is supported by the major veterans organizations except the Vietnam Veterans of America, who said that the bill is unfair is limited to a veteran of the legal rights “on the convenience of the VA.” The measure creates three streamlined paths to a veteran would be able to take in the pursuit of an appeal, so that they forego hearings or face tighter deadlines for the submission of evidence.


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