Senators offer legislation to reduce VA appeals wait time
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A bipartisan group of senators is offering legislation aimed at cutting down the amount of time it takes for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to handle a disability claim. 

Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDems hit stock buybacks in tax law fight Dem senator warns Mueller against issuing Russia report near 2018 election Dem praises gay US Olympian who feuded with Pence MORE (D-Pa.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThe siren of Baton Rouge Big Republican missteps needed for Democrats to win in November What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (R-Nev.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterWith vote against Brownback, Democrats abandon religious freedom Democrat Manchin: Pence attacks prove ‘they don't want bipartisanship’ in Trump admin Tester invited the Border Patrol Union’s president to the State of the Union. What does that say to Dreamers?   MORE (D-Mont.) have introduced legislation to create a five-year pilot program that would serve as a voluntary alternative to the VA's current appeals process for disability claims. 
 
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Under their proposal, veterans would be able to file an "express" appeal after the VA hands over a decision on a disability claim, which the lawmakers suggested could cut hundreds of days of wait time out of the current appeals process. 
 
Veterans can appeal the VA's original decision for a myriad of reasons, including disagreeing with the department about the severity of their disability. 
 
According to weekly VA data released Monday, the VA's Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) currently has more than 300,000 appeals pending. 
 
A fiscal year 2014 report found that on average it can take more than 1,000 days between the time an appeal is filed and when the Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA) makes a decision. 
 
Sullivan said that he hopes the Senate legislation will "create a less-bureaucratic appeals express lane" for the VA to handle appeals, adding that it is "astounding" that veterans can wait almost three years for a decision. 
 
Casey added that the current timeline is "unacceptable." 
 
"It is crucial that we work to ensure that veterans get timely and accurate decisions on their appeals," he said. 
 
As part of the legislation, if a veteran decided to opt for an "express" appeal but later changed their mind, they would be able to go back to the current appeals process without being negatively impacted. 
 
To help save time, the "express" process would skip over a current step in the appeals process when VA officials collect additional evidence after a veteran files an appeal. 
 
The legislation comes after lawmakers have pushed the VA for years to reduce the number of pending appeals from veterans. VA Secretary Bob McDonald called for a "simplified appeals process" while testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last month.