Senator Murray Passes Amendment to Get Disability Benefits to National Guard and Reserve Members Quicker

Oct 01 2007

As GAO report reveals 177 day benefits waiting lines, Murray amendment calls for expansion of the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program to Guard and Reserve members.

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) announced that she helped pass an amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization bill that would expand a program that fast tracks veterans disability benefits to include National Guard and Reserve members. The amendment calls for the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to present a plan to expand the successful Benefits Delivery Discharge (BDD) program to National Guard and Reserve members. BDD currently allows active duty service members to apply for VA service-connected disability compensation and related benefits prior to completing their service. BDD also allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin benefits and disability payments to veterans soon after discharge. The Defense Authorization bill passed 92-3.

"Currently, after our veterans are done with their service, they have to take their place at the back of a benefits waiting line that averages 177 days," said Senator Murray. "The BDD program allows those veterans who take advantage of it a chance to get a head start on that line. We need to be expanding this program, not limiting it. Our National Guard and Reserve members are making tremendous sacrifices and we owe them the same speedy access to benefits we owe all our veterans."

Under the BDD program the VA accepts pre-discharge disability claims from eligible service members. By getting an advance on the claims process, VA representatives may be able to review proposed disability rating decisions with program participants prior to their separation/retirement from service. This improves timeliness in the processing of claims and allows veterans a more seamless transition between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD).

A GAO report released last week revealed that despite Congressional efforts, the Bush Administration has not come up with a way to reduce disability benefit delays that average 177 days. It also found that the DoD and VA remain far away from devising a system to share medical records that would improve the transfer of patients between the agencies.

Senator Murray has worked in the Senate to improve the continuity of care between VA and DoD so that service members who require care are not falling through the cracks.

Service members who apply for disability compensation benefits under the BDD program undergo one medical examination instead of both a DoD separation exam and a VA exam for the disability claim. This helps ensure timely decisions and improved accuracy on service members' disability compensation claims, which allows for more seamless care between DoD and VA.

"As this GAO report points out, disability lines remain desperately long and the gulf between DoD and VA care remains hopelessly wide," said Senator Murray. "Expanding the BDD program is one way we can help veterans navigate through the red tape they face when they return home."

BDD program representatives help veterans deal with the paperwork and red tape associated with the VA entitlements process. Program representatives also discuss with veterans education and medical benefits and VA home loans.

Unfortunately, only regular active duty service members can participate in the Benefits Deliver at Discharge program, leaving our National Guard and Reserve service members ineligible to participate.

"Guard and Reserve veterans are twice as likely to have their disability compensation claim rejected by VA," Murray said. "By allowing Guard and Reserve members to participate in the BDD program will help improves the accuracy and the timeliness in the processing of disability claims."