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Sen. Murray: “Far too often, I hear from veterans in Washington state that the benefits and care they earned have been caught up in bureaucracy outside their control.” 

Now awaiting the vote of the full Senate, the legislation would replace complicated VA appeals system with simpler process

(Washington, D.C.) –  U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, applauded the committee passage of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. The bipartisan legislation seeks to overhaul the current process for veterans’ appeals at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The VA’s current appeals process is in desperate need of updating, and nearly half a million veterans in Washington state and nationwide are in limbo because of the VA’s existing backlog. Between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2017, the number of pending appeals increased from approximately 380,000 to 470,000 – a more than 20 percent increase.

The measure, which passed the committee by voice vote, would create three separate paths for veterans to choose from when seeking redress from a decision by the Veterans Benefits Administration on their claims for VA benefits. Senator Murray has long championed reforms to provide better service and support to the nation’s veterans.

“Our country makes a promise to care for the men and women who serve, but far too often, I hear from veterans in Washington state that the benefits and care they earned have been caught up in bureaucracy outside their control,” Senator Murray said. “This is a disservice to those who sacrificed so much on our behalf. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues as we work to simplify the system so it works better for our veterans.”

The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 allows certain veterans already going through the appeals process to opt in to the new system and gives the VA secretary the authority to test facets of the new system prior to full implementation. The bill also requires the VA to provide a comprehensive plan for both implementing the new system and processing the existing appeals.

Under the new process, veterans dissatisfied with the initial decisions on their claims will be able to:

  • Seek a higher-level review by a regional office on the same evidence presented to the original claims processors;
  • File a supplemental claim with a regional office that would include the opportunity to submit additional evidence; or
  • Appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, resulting in a possible hearing and/or the opportunity to submit additional evidence.

Following its committee passage, the bill heads to the full Senate for a vote.

A one-page summary of the legislation can be found here

The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 was introduced by Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), on May 3 and, in addition to Sen. Murray, was also co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Steve Daines (R-MT), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Thune (R-SD), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Mark Warner (D-VA).

Similar legislation was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Mike Bost (R-IL), and Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. Congressmen Phil Roe (R-TN), and Tim Walz (D-MN), chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, are original co-sponsors of the House bill.