Key senators from both parties have introduced legislation designed to provide the VA with resources to combat its claims backlog, which grew in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and as tens of thousands of veterans filed claims connected to new benefits.
The Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2021, introduced late last year by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), would address staff recruitment, streamline claims processing and notification practices, and expand outreach efforts to veterans groups. Tester serves as chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, while Moran serves as its ranking member.
“MOAA applauds Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran’s multipronged approach to addressing the claims backlog veterans are facing,” said Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), MOAA’s president and chief executive officer, adding that the act “makes important changes that will help veterans get their claims processed faster by supporting veterans and all personnel involved in the adjudication process.”
The VA began accepting claims in mid-2021 from veterans whose Parkinsonism, bladder cancer, and hypothyroidism have been presumptively linked to Agent Orange and other herbicides. Tens of thousands of those claims now have reached the 125-day mark, adding them to the VA case backlog.
While the bill does not specifically address these claims or others in the backlog, it would:
- Create an internship program for “high-achieving students at law schools” to encourage them to contribute to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and add incentives such as student loan repayment to entice entry-level lawyers.
- Require VA contractors to contact the veteran’s representative as well as the veteran when scheduling an exam, and improve educational efforts with veterans groups on the disability exam process.
- Allow the VA to notify claimants of decisions via e-mail (if the claimant agrees) immediately, rather than using regular mail.
[RELATED: VA Tests New Automated System That Could Speed Up Claims Decisions]
The bill “will make it easier for folks to obtain their VA benefits by cutting down the timeline for processing claims, increasing transparency over the process, and reducing backlogs across a system that was created to efficiently serve those who served us,” Tester said in a press release.
Learn more about this act and other pieces of MOAA-backed legislation at this link – part of MOAA’s new Legislative Action Center.
It’s more important than ever to make sure you’re in the know and your military benefits are protected.