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.”