Senators Clinton and Schumer Join Congressman Hall in Push to Modernize VA Disability Benefits Claims System
With veterans continuing to face problems accessing disability benefits, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer today introduced legislation that would modernize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability benefits claims processing system. The Veterans Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act of 2008 would enact reforms to improve the delivery of compensation to veterans, their families and their survivors. The bill is the Senate companion to legislation Congressman John Hall (D-NY) introduced in the House of Representatives where it has passed unanimously.
"As more and more servicemembers return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the VA will face increased pressure to fairly and efficiently provide the benefits these men and women have earned. We owe our veterans a tremendous debt for their service to our country, but the current VA claims process burdens our veterans with bureaucratic obstacles and outdated rules. We must take steps to improve VA procedures so that claims can be processed and benefits delivered quickly, fairly and accurately for our veterans, their families and their survivors," said Senator Clinton.
"The current VA system is outdated and ineffective. The men and women who dedicate their lives to taking care of our country deserve better than this and must be given the same level of committed care now and in the future," said Schumer. "This legislation will modernize the process and guarantee that our servicemen and women receive the benefits they deserve quickly and efficiently. I am glad that the House passed this critical legislation and I will fight tooth and nail to make sure that it passes in the Senate."
"Veterans have been waiting far too long for these reforms to the VA," said Congressman Hall, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance. "We can and must change the way Washington treats our injured veterans. Veterans currently face an overly bureaucratic VA. Heroes returning from war deserve to receive the benefits they have earned easily and promptly. I am tremendously pleased that this legislation passed the House unanimously and that Senator Clinton and Senator Schumer, who have always been staunch advocates for veterans, are now spearheading the effort in the Senate."
The Veterans Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act includes:
* The establishment of an Office of Survivor Relations to assist family members of deceased veterans. Under current VA rules, if a veteran dies while a claim is being processed, survivors must restart the often lengthy claim process to have it considered; this legislation would allow for survivors to take the place of deceased veterans as the claims process continues.
* A provision to remove a major obstacle to veterans quickly receiving benefits for undisputed severe service-connected injuries, such as missing limbs and paralysis. Currently, veterans with major, undisputed injuries have to wait for all of their injuries, including more complex and invisible ones such as traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder to be evaluated, processed, and rated by the VA before receiving any benefits. The Veterans Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act of 2008 would allow veterans to receive benefits for undisputed severe injuries even while they wait for the rest of their claims to be adjudicated.
* A requirement to develop a plan to modernize VA record-keeping by implementing comprehensive information technology upgrades, such as converting claims records to electronic format, within one year. The incorporation of modern technology into the claims system would reduce backlog and delays and allow faster and easier access to critical claim information.
Congressman Hall's version of the bill has garnered the support of numerous veterans advocacy and medical organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American (IAVA), the American Legion, the Military Officers' Association of America (MOAA), the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), ALF-CIO, American Veterans (AMVETS), NOVA, and the American Psychiatric Association (APA).