President Trump signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 and it is designed to “streamline the lengthy process that veterans undergo when appealing their claims for disability benefits” with the VA.
In theory, this is supposed to help veterans navigate the VA system and challenge rejected benefit claims. It’s also intended to reduce the appeals backlog with new approaches for veterans seeking benefits.
Phil Roe (R-TN), chairman of the House Committee of Veterans Affairs said, “The VA’s current appeals process is broken. Between FY2015-2017, the number of pending appeals increased from approximately 380,000 to 470,000—more than a 20 percent increase. Between FY2013-2016, Congress appropriated nearly $200 million more than the president’s request to address the appeals backlog. Despite the infusion of resources, VA estimates that it will take at least five years just to resolve the appeals currently pending.”
Within 90 days after the act has been enacted, the VA Secretary is to submit to the appropriate committees of Congress and Comptroller General, a comprehensive plan for processing legacy appeals and implementing the new appeals system.
This bill will also create three “lanes” for veterans’ appeals:
- Local Higher-Level Review Lane—adjudicator reviews the same evidence considered by the original claims processor
- New Evidence Lane—veteran can submit new evidence for review and have a hearing
- Board Lane—jurisdiction for an appeal would transfer immediately to the Board of Veterans appeals
This bill will also give the Secretary authority to test the new system prior to full implementation and allow some veterans already going through the appeals process to opt into the new system.
It will also require the VA to provide a plan for implementing the new system and subsequent certifications by the Secretary that the department is prepared to implement changes.
Finally, it requires the Secretary to submit periodic reports to Congress, including information on how many appeals are pending in both the modernized system and the legacy system.