VA Secretary urges congressional action on appeals

posted on

In a recent op-ed published on The Hill publication, VA Secretary Bob McDonald and former VA Secretary Dr. James Peake laid out a number of actions being taken by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve conditions for our nation’s veterans.

The secretaries assert that VA is making significant progress in meeting veterans’ needs, but congressional action is needed to achieve the department’s breakthrough priorities.

“VA is in the midst of the largest reorganization in history, a transformation called MyVA. There are 12 breakthrough priorities set with clear end-of-year goals – including improving veterans’ experience with VA, increasing access to health care, improving community care, modernizing our contact centers, and developing a simplified process for appealing benefits decisions, among others,” according to the post.

Specifically, the secretaries urge Congress to pass legislation in three key areas: Integrating community care into the VA’s healthcare system, eradicating veterans’ homelessness in the Los Angeles area, and fixing the broken process by which veterans appeal unfavorable claims decisions.

In particular, the secretaries note that leading veterans organizations, including DAV, worked closely with VA, “to jointly develop a New Appeals Framework that, when implemented, will allow the vast majority of veterans to receive a final decision within a year of filing an appeal.” DAV and other VSOs will testify before the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees next week on legislation to implement this appeals proposal.

“Thanks to an extraordinary collaboration among all major veterans’ stakeholders and VA, we have been able to reach general agreement on legislation that could significantly improve the entire appeals system,” said DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine. “It’s important to note that the new appeals framework builds upon the fully developed appeals (FDA) legislation we helped draft last year, working together with Congress, VA officials and other VSOs.”

Under the FDA proposal, veterans would be able to get quicker decisions on appeals of their claims for benefits if they agree to eliminate unnecessary processing steps and take greater responsibility for developing the evidence necessary to satisfy their appeal.  In February, the House approved a veterans benefits bill (H.R. 677) that included the FDA proposal; a companion Senate FDA bill (S. 2473) was approved by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee earlier this month.

“With over 450,000 appeals pending in a growing backlog, it is imperative to move forward with commonsense ideas like the FDA, as well as the broader appeals reforms we reached agreement on with VA, the Board of Veterans Appeals and most of the veterans community,” Augustine added. “While there are still further improvements that can and should be made to the legislation, now is the time to move forward with comprehensive appeals reform that will provide veterans with quicker and more accurate decisions.”

In their joint op-ed, the secretaries argue that, “VA is at a turning point, a time when there is an opportunity to build on the transformation already underway and finally overcome long-standing barriers to success. The legislative packages are there. The time for Congress to act on these initiatives is now. Veterans don’t want to hear ‘it’s too hard.’ They want and deserve solutions.”

  • EMOMD

    If Secretary Bob McDonald is serious about solving the problem of a growing number of cases for appeals, then he should have competent adjudicators and legal personnel who are very familiar with the provisions of Title 38 which is the holy bible of raters. Most of them are incompetent that they do not even know the provisions of the law. Most of them try to do their own personal interpretation of the law instead of just following the wording of the law. A good example is my case which started since 2009 and up to the present time it is not yet resolve. The errors committed are so numerous that it seems impossible to had happened. One of the basic example, is their admission that the loss of function of both my buttocks is service connected and had been used to arrive at my current disability rating. However, they refused to award SMC “K” for it had been utilized already in the award of my SMC rating. However, if you read the provisions of SMC “K”, it states that this compensation is to be added to any basic disability rating or SMC rating with the only limitation is over all total compensation. Although they admit to the condition as being service connected, there is no rating assign to it nor was it listed as one of my service connected medical conditions. There are a lot more of errors committed on my case but I believe this is enough to demonstrate to our good secretary that the problem lies with our incompetent adjudicators who need more training or get rid of them..