March 24, 2017

Warner & Kaine Introduce Legislation To Overhaul Broken VA Appeals Process

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined a group of fourteen Senators in introducing legislation to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs’ broken appeals process. The process has not been updated since 1933, and more than 450,000 appeals are currently pending. Because of redundancies and inefficiencies in the current process, most veterans wait years for a decision on their appeals. By replacing the current process, the Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act would expedite appeals before the Board of Veterans Appeals and give veterans clear options after receiving an initial decision.

The Government Accountability Office yesterday released a report 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 the process is significantly reformed—as the legislation would do.

“The VA has more than 450,000 veterans waiting to hear about an appeal, and the average appeal takes up to 5 years to resolve,” said Senator Warner. “There is wide acknowledgement that the current process for VA appeals is insufficient to adequately support our nations’ veterans, including the more than 780,000 veterans who call Virginia home. Our legislation will modernize the appeals process while maintaining a veteran’s right to full consideration.”

"I hear from veterans across Virginia whose appeals get caught in a long, complex process that is incredibly difficult to navigate,” said Senator Kaine. “Our bill would simplify and improve the appeals process, which will help the VA address its drastic backlog and decrease wait times for veterans. These reforms are long overdue, and they'll allow the VA to better serve veterans across the country, including nearly 800,000 veterans who call Virginia home."

The legislation introduced today 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.

Joining Warner and Kaine as original cosponsors of the legislation are U.S. Senators Jon Tester, Richard Blumenthal, Angus King, Maggie Hassan, Bob Casey, Tammy Baldwin, Chris Van Hollen, Patty Murray, Dick Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, Bernie Sanders, Tom Udall, Mazie K. Hirono, and Jeanne Shaheen.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act is a reintroduction of S. 3328 from last Congress, which was supported 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.