VA convened a workgroup in March consisting of DAV, other stakeholders and VA officials in order to seek common ground on a new framework for appeals. After months of intensive efforts, the workgroup was able to reach consensus on a framework of a new appeals system that could offer veterans quicker decisions, while protecting their rights and prerogatives. The number of appeals awaiting decisions has risen dramatically – to almost 450,000 – and the average time for an appeal decision is between three and five years, a delay that is simply unacceptable.
Before Congress took recess in July, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Congressman Jeff Miller of Florida, introduced H.R. 5620, the “VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016” to the Committee. This legislation could significantly improve the ability of veterans to receive more timely and accurate decisions on their claims and appeals for earned benefits.
H.R. 5620, which contains the new appeals framework, would make fundamental changes to the appeals process by creating multiple options to appeal or reconsider claims’ decisions, either formally to the Board or informally within the Veterans Benefits Administration. The central feature of the legislation would provide veterans three options, or “lanes,” to appeal unfavorable claims decisions; and if they were not satisfied with their decisions, they could continue to pursue one of the other two options. As long as a veteran continuously pursues a new appeals option within one year of the last decision, they would be able to preserve their earliest effective date. This legislation also allows veterans to present new evidence and have a hearing before the Board or VBA if they so desire.
“If faithfully implemented as designed by the workgroup, and if fully funded by Congress and VA in the years ahead, H.R. 5620 would make a marked improvement in the ability of veterans to get timely and accurate decisions on appeals of their claims,” said DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine. “We urge the House to swiftly approve this legislation and then work with the Senate to reach agreement on final legislation that can be sent to the President to sign this year.”