© Getty Images
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 CaseyBob CaseyDems struggle with abortion litmus test Dems crowd primaries to challenge GOP reps GOP fundraiser enters crowded primary for Pa. Senate seat MORE (D-Pa.), Dean HellerDean HellerOvernight Energy: Trump orders review of national monuments, claiming ‘egregious abuse’ Draft House bill ignites new Yucca Mountain fight Ex-Nevada state treasurer may challenge Heller in 2018 MORE (R-Nev.) and Jon TesterJon TesterDem senator to appear with Romney: report Battle begins over Wall Street rules Dems hunt for a win in Montana special election 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.
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.