New Law Streamlining VA Claim Appeals Eases Some Protections

Every major veteran service organization, except Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), supported legislation signed into law last week to reform a woefully clogged process for deciding appeals of veterans’ disability claims.

Even VVA concedes the new “three-lane” option for appealing claims, when implemented via regulation a year or more from now, will produce speedier appeal decisions and begin to reverse what continues to be a steadily rising backlog of appeals, soon to surpass a stunning 500,000.

Every veteran appealing a claim knows something is wrong with a system that, on average, takes three years to get a final decision. The Department of Veterans Affairs says some veterans are waiting six years or more.

In May 2016, with Congress unable to agree on reforms and the backlog rising, then-VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson created a work group of senior VA officials, veterans organization representatives, Board of Appeals experts and, months later, key legislative staff. It was the backlog that made compromise possible. Veterans groups agreed to ease certain protections to address it.

“The question became: How can we improve the process to make it more efficient and still strike the right balance of preserving those protections for the veteran?” said a House staff member involved in the negotiations. “There was momentum to do something.”

To read the full August 31, 2017 article from Stars and Stripes, click here.