House Veterans' Affairs Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Holds Hearing on VA Appeals Process
Washington, D.C. - On Tuesday, the House Veterans' Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee, led by Chairman John Hall (D-NY), held a hearing on the Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board) and the Appeals Management Center (AMC). The hearing examined measures that have been taken by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to manage the growing backlog of claims and reduce the average length of an appeal.
"The Board of Veterans' Appeals is designed to provide the veteran with an opportunity to appeal a decision issued by one of the 57 Regional Offices of the VA," said Chairman Hall. "No one disputes the importance of this step in the claims process, but unfortunately it has become more foe than friend to our veterans. It seems to be an unspoken belief held by many veterans and their advocates that given the variances in Regional Office level decisions, an appeal to the BVA is almost a necessity."
The Board of Veterans' Appeals makes decisions on behalf of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and has jurisdiction over a wide variety of issues, although the vast majority of appeals considered involve claims for disability compensation or survivor benefits. The Board may grant, remand or deny the veteran's appeal. In 2006, the Board issued 39,076 decisions. Of the appeals that resulted in an allowance or denial of benefits, 71% were denied.
"It is clear that the VA has a problem with processing disability claims and we need to take action to swiftly compensate and care for any disabilities resulting from military service," said Bob Filner, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "Addressing the claims backlog will be a major focus of the Committee for the rest of the 110th Congress. The task of eliminating the backlog is not an easy one and I expect to work closely with Veteran Service Organizations, individual veterans and my colleagues from both sides of the aisle."
Witnesses highlighted the need to retain and recruit employees to the VA and to standardize training for the VA's veteran service representatives. Ideas for reducing the claims backlog included upgrading to an electronic records system for submitting claims, emphasizing the accuracy of the appeal, ensuring that claims are processed from the oldest to the youngest, and examining the root cause for multiple remands on an individual appeal.
"I am heartened by the fact that this Congress has proposed additional funding in the 2008 budget for 1,000 full time employees to help with the growing backlog, but that alone will not solve this problem," said Chairman Hall. "I firmly believe that the only way to maximize VBA employees' effectiveness in lessening the backlog is to provide the necessary tools and training to provide accurate ratings from the beginning of the disability claims process."
Witnesses at the hearing included: Arnold Russo, Director of the Appeals Management Center at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; The Honorable James P. Terry, Chairman of the Board of Veterans' Appeals at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Bart Stichman, Joint Executive Director of the National Veterans Legal Services; Richard Cohen, President of the National Organization of Veterans Advocates, Inc.; Carl Blake, National Legislative Director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America; Steve Smithson, Deputy Director of the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission at The American Legion; Adrian Atizado, Assistant National Legislative Director of the Disabled American Veterans; and Eric A. Hilleman, Deputy Director National Legislative Service of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.