Senators push to limit wait time for VA appeals

Senators push to limit wait time for VA appeals
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The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee is set to unveil a bill as early as Wednesday that would speed up the appeals process for veterans unhappy with their benefits payments.

Committee Chairman Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOvernight Defense: VA nominee on the ropes | White House signals it will fight for pick | Trump talks Syria with Macron | McConnell tees up Pompeo vote White House signals it will fight on for Trump VA pick Senator offers new details on allegations against VA nominee MORE (R-Ga.) and member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) announced the bill in a joint statement Tuesday. It aims to overhaul the appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has been criticized as too lengthy.

“The VA’s current appeals process is in desperate need of updating, and nearly half a million veterans are in limbo because of the VA’s existing backlog,” reads the joint statement announcing the bill, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act.

“Between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2017, the number of pending appeals increased from approximately 380,000 to 470,000 – a more than 20 percent increase.”

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Veterans currently have a five-year wait on average if they appeal a decision, with the VA being criticized for having an outdated review process. Lawmakers said they want that wait time to be reduced to less than a year.

Isakson, who is in Georgia recovering from two recent back surgeries, plans to introduce the act as early as Wednesday. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDem senator: Trump's VA pick nicknamed 'candy man' for handing out prescriptions Overnight Health Care: Trump's VA pick on the ropes | White House signals it will fight for nominee | Senate panel approves opioid bill | FDA cracking down on e-cig sales to kids White House signals it will fight on for Trump VA pick MORE (Mont.), the committee's top Democrat.

“For too long our veterans and their families have faced unacceptable delays during the VA’s disability claims appeal process,” Isakson said in the statement.

“This legislation, created with input from the VA and veterans groups, overhauls the current appeals process and puts in place a new system that is more transparent and allows veterans to choose the option that is right for them.”

Blumenthal added that the new legislation “would dramatically shorten the average wait time for an appeal from five years to 125 days.”

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has separate draft legislation that also seeks to overhaul VA benefits appeals.

House Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) called the current system “broken,” according to the statement.

The VA has been criticized for years for appointment backlogs, a tedious and long appeals process and failing to quickly fire problematic employees.

President Trump repeatedly vowed on the campaign trail to increase accountability at the VA, and last week he signed an executive order to create the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, a new office within the department tasked with weeding out poorly performing employees and protecting whistleblowers.

Trump said at the signing ceremony that VA reform will be one of the “crown jewels” of his administration.