Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Dean Heller (R-NV), Chairs of the VA Backlog Working Group, along with Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), David Vitter (R-LA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Susan Collins (R-ME) released the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act. This comprehensive legislation would create a system that can withstand surges in disability claims without generating another veteran disability claims backlog. Text of the legislation is available by clicking HERE.
The Senators also released the VA Backlog Working Group 2015 Report in which the Working Group identifies the progress that has been made on the claims backlog since 2014, which Working Group recommendations have been implemented by the VA and Congress, and what actions must still be taken to fully transition the VA to a 21st century benefits delivery system. The report can be seen HERE.
“The Administration has taken important steps to reduce the disability claims backlog but this report addresses the many gaps that remain,” said Senator Casey. “Now is the time to advance bipartisan legislation that will move the VA’s disability claims system into the 21st Century so that it delivers the relief that our veterans and their families deserve. It’s simply unacceptable to have a veteran with a disability wait hundreds of days for their claim to be resolved.”
“One of the greatest privileges of serving Nevada in the U.S. Senate is the opportunity to work on behalf of our state’s more than 300,000 veterans. Locally and nationwide, our American heroes face great challenges, chief among them is the VA disability claims backlog,” said Senator Heller. “I am proud to spearhead the VA Backlog Working Group with Senator Casey in an effort to ensure a continued decline in wait time for veterans’ benefit claims. The red tape our veterans face is unacceptable, and until the backlog is eliminated, I won’t back down.”
Senators Moran, Manchin, Toomey, Heinrich, Vitter, Tester, and Collins are cosponsors of the bill.
“I continue to hear horror stories from Kansans and Veteran Service Organizations about the VA claims process,” Senator Moran said. “We know our veterans deserve better; they deserve the best our nation has to offer. I’m proud to be a part of the VA Claims Backlog Working Group, a thoughtful effort to take clear and decisive action. The common-sense solutions we offer in the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act are overwhelmingly supported by Veteran Service Organizations, who know this issue inside and out. The Senate now has a set of concrete solutions that deserves a vote and that the VA should adopt to make real and meaningful change.”
“It is encouraging that the VA has made some improvements to decrease the claims backlog for VA benefits, but there are still lingering issues with processing claims when veterans need benefits the most,” Senator Manchin said. “In order to make sure our veterans receive the care that they need and deserve, the VA must continue to adapt reforms that will allow the VA to run more efficiently and effectively. That is why I am proud to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation that offers commonsense solutions to ensuring the system can weather another surge in benefits claims.”
“Pennsylvania is home to nearly one million veterans and it is an honor to work on their behalf as a member of the bipartisan VA Backlog Working Group,” said Senator Toomey. “I have long insisted that our veterans be the first in line for the best quality care. The VA needs to cut red tape, make the paperwork easier, and rid itself of the culture that’s led to the current backlog of disability claims. It’s outrageous to leave our veterans in limbo for more than four months on average waiting for initial feedback. Like much at the VA, response time needs to improve and I am pleased to join Sen. Casey and Sen. Heller in cosponsoring legislation to address this serious problem and eliminate this backlog.”
“We have an obligation to provide our veterans with the best care and benefits we have to offer and without delay. This legislation accelerates the initial claims submission process and makes reducing the backlog a government-wide priority. The ability to maintain the strongest and most dedicated military force in the world depends on our nation's ability to keep its promises to our veterans. We owe our service members more than a debt of gratitude when they return home--we owe them action in both our words and deeds,” said Senator Heinrich.
“Our veterans have put everything on the line to protect our country, and in return we’ve given them the status quo,” Senator Vitter said. “They deserve far more than backlogs and red tape. We owe it to our veterans to provide them with the best and most accessible care possible, and our legislation will help veterans receive the benefits they deserve.”
“The VA has made some strides to process disability claims in a more accurate and timely manner, particularly considering the increased number and complexity of disability claims. However, until the backlog is completely eliminated, more work remains to be done. This bill will give VA the tools and flexibility it needs to eliminate the backlog for good and to ensure veterans get the benefits they have earned in a timely manner,” said Senator Tester.
“As the daughter of a World War II Purple Heart recipient, I learned about the bravery and sacrifices of our service members from a young age,” said Senator Collins. “When our men and women in uniform return home, they deserve access to the best health care our nation can provide, both conveniently and quickly. This bipartisan legislation takes action to alleviate hardships related to the VA disability claims backlog that adversely effects veterans in Maine and across the country. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that all our veterans have the care and support they deserve.”
The report and legislation were endorsed by several Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), including Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). You can click each organization above to read their letters of support. These organizations have provided and will continue to provide the Working Group with invaluable input.
In July of 2013, Senators Heller and Casey announced the formation of the VA Backlog Working Group. The purpose of the Working Group was to provide a better understanding of the VA claims process and a forum for lawmakers, veterans, and VSOs to tackle the disability claim backlog. The report outlined the history of the backlog, and recommended legislative solutions to bring the system into the 21st century.
Since the introduction of the VA Claims Backlog Working Group’s 2014 Report, the VA and Congress have implemented many of the recommendations proposed in the report and the legislation Heller and Casey introduced. However, the senators have recognized more changes are needed to create a system that can withstand surges in claims without generating another backlog in the future.
Details of the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act
The 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act proposes three areas of improvement to the claims process to ensure more accurate and timely decisions for our nation’s veterans.
Title I – Benefits Claims Submission. This title will assist and educate veterans on the benefits of submitting a completed claim and encourages the use of the resources and services available to help a veteran complete a claim.
- Ensures veterans’ have access to information about the claims process through eBenefits.
- Encourages DOD to ensure VSOs have greater access to participate in Transition Assistance Program (TAP) seminars.
- Grants more expeditious hearings for veterans appealing a claim decision.
Title II - Reforming Practices of VA Regional Offices. Personnel and management must be given tools to perform efficiently. This title institutes improvements to Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) processes to increase accuracy and efficiency at the regional office level, and ensure transparency.
- Improves management through a GAO assessment of good management practices, implementation of a training program for certain managers, and establishing better communication with VSOs and Congress.
- Ensures that critical issues—including the Resource Allocation Model, improvements to the Veterans Benefits Management System, and the inventory of dependency and non-rating related claims—are properly addressed by the VA.
- Increases transparency to the public and lawmakers on the size and scope of the current backlog.
Title III - Government Response. This section holds the government accountable and helps to ensure the claims process is a priority.
- Establishes better cooperation from federal agencies to transfer requested information.
- Presses VBA employees to process information it receives from these agencies in a timely fashion.