In the fast-track effort to reduce the nation’s backlog of veterans’ disability claims, Nevada Rep. Dina Titus predicted in August that the Department of Veterans Affairs would “soon be facing an appeals tsunami.”
On June 23, as the flood of appeals loomed with an estimated 460,000 cases stuck in the backlog, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on Titus’ proposal to fix the problem with a bill she has sponsored, the VA Appeals Modernization Act of 2016.
The bill aims to reform how Veterans Affairs processes appeals on rejected claims for service-connected disabilities, saving the VA more than $2.6 billion while decreasing the average wait time of more than two years.
“We must not miss this opportunity to reform an outdated and over-complicated system that’s only had one major update since it was first developed in 1933,” Titus, D-Nev., a committee member since 2013, said in a statement after the hearing.
As the VA chipped away at the initial claims backlog that stood at 75,000 almost a year ago — a significant reduction since the peak of more than 600,000 in 2013 — the number of claims that were denied went up, causing an increase in the number of veterans appealing those denials.
“As we focused our efforts on the claims, I pointed out that the appeals backlog would likely grow. Since 2012, we’ve seen just that,” she said Thursday. “The appeals backlog has skyrocketed to almost 500,000, causing significant wait times for veterans.”
She said the current system offers no clear pathway for resolving an appeal, but if her bill is enacted there will be three different routes for veterans to pursue under a format that leads to conclusions in their cases. Under her proposal, a veteran could either go directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals; select an option to present new evidence to the Veterans Benefits Administration; or use the same evidence from the initial claim for the administration to review.
The committee has yet to determine when it will schedule a vote on the bill. (Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal | Keith Rogers | June 23, 2016)
Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire. His veterans updates can be found weekly in The Newberry Observer.