While 2017 was probably one of the most significant years in terms of legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, 2018 may be even more critical as a number of historic new laws begin to be implemented.
Last year, DAV was able to play a key role in achieving major legislative victories, including passage of legislation to improve accountability, modernize the appeals process, extend services to women veterans, increase funding to strengthen the VA, hire more clinical staff and continue access to community care, improve vocational rehabilitation and education benefits for veterans and their dependents, and provide a 2 percent cost of living increase. As 2017 drew to a close, Congress was also poised to pass historic VA health care reform legislation that included caregiver fairness provisions, an assessment of the VA’s infrastructure needs and additional resources for the VA to improve access.
Each of these victories will have a direct impact on the lives of the men and women who served, particularly those who were injured or made ill as a result of their service. Getting these new laws on the books was a major accomplishment, but now we must continue our efforts to ensure that these changes are fully and faithfully implemented as intended.
For example, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 will provide veterans with more options to appeal adverse claims decisions while fully protecting their due process rights. However, continued oversight is necessary as new rules, regulations and procedures are developed before the program takes full effect in February 2019. As part of the team that helped draft and pass this law, DAV will remain actively engaged with the VA and Congress throughout the upcoming year to ensure the process is streamlined and veterans’ interests are protected.
We will also have to remain laser-focused on VA health care reform as the current Choice Program is phased out and replaced with a new model of VA-integrated community care. Pending legislation will allow the creation of local community health care networks, with the VA serving as the coordinator and primary provider to enrolled veterans. The goal is to supplement VA care and expand access when and where veterans need it. During this transition, we must remain vigilant and ensure the VA receives the full funding and authority it requires to deliver timely, high-quality care to all enrolled veterans. I know, with continued support from DAV members, we will begin to realize the modern and more responsive VA health care and benefits system we deserve.
DAV’s grassroots advocacy will be essential in 2018 as the VA begins to implement these major reforms. Please join us in February at the 2018 DAV Mid-Winter Conference, where we will share updates on key legislation and take our message to Capitol Hill.