During the 99th American Legion National Convention in Reno, President Trump signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. This comes as a fulfillment of Trump’s campaign promises to reform the “broken” VA system.
The idea behind the legislation is to expedite and add more transparency to the appeals process after veterans have been denied benefits claims or are not satisfied with the VA’s decision after the claims process is completed.
Until today, veterans routinely waited for years on end, after appealing an unfavorable decision.
In an attempt to fast track the appeals process, the Improvement and Modernization Act will create three paths or lanes for processing veterans’ appeals:
- The “Board Lane” allows veterans to present their appeals directly before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals
- The “Local Higher Level Review Lane” allows them to have a higher level VA adjudicator review the original case evidence
- The “New Evidence Lane” establishes that veterans can submit new evidence and information to the adjudicator that previously denied their claim
According to VA sources, it will take a year and a half for the new appeals processes to be implemented. If a veteran is already in the process of appealing a decision, they will have a chance to opt into the new system, which includes a requirement for the VA to periodically update Congress regarding the number of pending appeals.
Supported by all members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the reform met with some objections from NOVA along the way.
One of the most significant is that NOVA would like to make sure a veteran’s rights are not lost while he switches lanes, “so that if he chooses to withdraw from a lane after the expiration of the original one-year period and seek relief in a different lane, his original effective date is preserved.”
NOVA also believes a requirement in the bill that newly introduced evidence be “new and relevant” is more stringent than the original requirement of “new and material” evidence.
Notwithstanding, as he signed the bill, President Trump referred to it as “historic,” and said veterans would receive “timely updates,” and that decisions would be made “much more quickly in a fraction of the time.”
There are currently about 340,000 claims pending a decision from the VA. According to statistics, nearly 12% of the VA’s benefits decisions end up being appealed.
According to Rep. Phil Roe, the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, "When a veteran files an appeal for disability compensation, they deserve to have their appeal decided in a timely manner... It’s unfair to the men and women who have been injured as a result of their service to have their claim for benefits stuck in the appeals backlog for years on end.”
Roe expressed pride in the fact that the legislation had been supported by both Democrats and Republicans.
“In the last two fiscal years, the number of pending appeals increased almost 20 percent, meaning nearly half a million veterans are in limbo waiting for a decision on their appeal. This is absolutely unacceptable,” Roe added. “This new law will create three lanes for appeals claims which will undoubtedly speed up the appeals process and give veterans the certainty they deserve. I thank President Trump for signing this important legislation into law and commend my colleagues on the committee for their leadership on this bill,” the House Committee Chairman concluded. The next two years will be critical to evaluate whether the overhaul will succeed in effectively speeding up the VA’s appeals process.