Joined by Maine Veterans, King Calls on Congress to Pass Bill Improving Appeals Process for Benefits

Sends letter to leaders of Senate Veterans Committee asking them to schedule a hearing on the legislation he has cosponsored

AUBURN, ME – Flanked by Maine veterans who have been mired in the bureaucratic mess of a broken appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today called on Congress to pass the Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act. The legislation, which Senator King has cosponsored, would overhaul the current VA system to provide veterans with clear and timelier options after receiving an initial appeals decision from the VA. The current process has not been updated since 1933 and there are more than 450,000 appeals pending nationwide.

In calling on Congress to advance the bill, Senator King released the text of a letter he sent today to the leaders of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, in which he urged them to schedule a hearing on the legislation to begin moving it forward.

“As you are both well aware, today, there are currently more than 450,000 appeals cases pending nationwide, mired in the bureaucratic limbo of a system that has not been updated since the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. The sad result of this red tape debacle is a growing collection of veterans from across Maine and the nation who may have been denied the benefits they are entitled to and have rightfully earned. As one Maine veteran once conveyed to me: ‘It seems as if the VA is just kicking the can down the road until I kick the bucket.’ This process is failing our veterans and every day that we do not take action to rectify this problem is a day that we have failed them as well,” Senator King wrote.

“Thus, I hope that we can work in an expeditious manner to move this consensus bill forward. As I said when this bill was first introduced, justice delayed is justice denied,” he continued. “It is time to stop delaying and it’s time to finally modernize this process to ensure that our veterans get the benefits they deserve. I urge the Committee to hold a hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act so that the Senate can move to passage of the bill.”

Senator King’s call comes in the wake of a recent report from the Government Accountability Office 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 that the process be significantly reformed – as the Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act would do.

More specifically, 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 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.

The bill is the result of collaboration between lawmakers and Veteran Services Organizations. It has bipartisan support and has been endorsed in the past 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 complete text of Senator King’s letter can be read HERE and is below:

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April 18, 2017

The Honorable Johnny Isakson                                   The Honorable Jon Tester

Chairman                                                                     Ranking Member

Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs                     Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Washington, D.C. 20510                                            Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Tester:

I am writing today in support of S. 152, the Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act, and to urge you to schedule it for a hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs so that we can begin the process of moving the bill through the legislative process and onto the President for his signature to become law.

As you are both well aware, today, there are currently more than 450,000 appeals cases pending nationwide, mired in the bureaucratic limbo of a system that has not been updated since the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. The sad result of this red tape debacle is a growing collection of veterans from across Maine and the nation who may have been denied the benefits they are entitled to and have rightfully earned. As one Maine veteran once conveyed to me: “It seems as if the VA is just kicking the can down the road until I kick the bucket.” This process is failing our veterans and every day that we do not take action to rectify this problem is a day that we have failed them as well.

Moreover, what should come as even more of a wake-up call to Congress is a recent report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which warns that, unless action is taken, veterans may have to wait an astounding 8.5 years on average for their appeals to be resolved. As I am sure you can agree, this is an unconscionable and unacceptable way to treat those who have served our nation honorably and bravely.

As you both know, the Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act, which I have cosponsored, is a non-controversial bill that would overhaul the VA’s broken appeals process to give veterans clearer and more timely options after receiving an initial appeals decision from the VA. The legislation is the product of extensive collaboration between lawmakers, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Veterans Service Organizations. As a result of that cooperation, it has garnered bipartisan, bicameral support and has been backed by 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 Services Officers and others. In an institution that is too often paralyzed by partisanship, this bill represents a real opportunity to take common-sense action that will yield significant benefits to the people we represent – to those who have sacrificed and served for our country.

Thus, I hope that we can work in an expeditious manner to move this consensus bill forward. As I said when this bill was first introduced, justice delayed is justice denied. It is time to stop delaying and it’s time to finally modernize this process to ensure that our veterans get the benefits they deserve. I urge the Committee to hold a hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act so that the Senate can move to passage of the bill.

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