There's momentum to improve VA, now we need action from Congress
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There is massive support in this country for improving care and services for our Veterans, their families and survivors. But goodwill isn’t enough.  The time to take action is now to better care for those who have “borne the battle.” 

VA is doing everything in its power to transform the Department to better meet the needs of Veterans and beneficiaries. While the Department is making significant progress, VA needs Congress’ help to achieve all of the breakthrough priorities on behalf of Veterans. 


VA is in the midst of the largest reorganization in history, a transformation called MyVA.  There are 12 breakthrough priorities set with clear end-of-year goals—including improving Veterans’ experience with VA, increasing access to health care, improving community care, modernizing our contact centers, and developing a simplified process for appealing benefits decisions, among others.  

VA has already begun growing a high-performing organization by consulting private sector experts who bring cutting-edge business skills like Lean Six Sigma and Human Centered Design. Cross-functional teams are focused on spreading enterprise-wide best practices in the Leaders Developing Leaders program and updating our outdated IT systems and sprawling supply chain—all to create a more efficient organization that better serves Veterans.  

But, Congress is needed to pass legislation, particularly in three pressing areas.  

First, to untangle the seven different ways VA provides care in the community today.  Today’s rules make the process inefficient, they cause confusion for both the Veterans and providers, they are in place because of legislation added over the years, and they must be legislatively corrected. 

Second, VA needs the authority to enter into partnerships to make needed changes to our West Los Angeles campus and more quickly end Veterans’ homelessness in the city with the largest concentration of homeless Veterans. 

Third and of critical importance to Veterans, VA needs Congress’s help to finally fix the broken process by which Veterans appeal unfavorable claims decisions—a process conceived over 80 years ago that is unlike any other appeals process in the federal government. Over the decades, layers of additions to the process have made it more complicated, more unpredictable, less clear, and less Veteran-friendly. 

This spring, VA joined with senior leaders from our Veterans Service Organization partners, other Veteran advocacy organizations, and top national experts to jointly develop a New Appeals Framework that, when implemented, will allow the vast majority of Veterans to receive a final decision within a year of filing an appeal. 

This proposal gives Veterans multiple paths to adjudicate claim disputes while preserving the effective date of the initial claim. 

Veterans will know what their options are and be able to follow each step in the process.  

They’ll get timely decisions and won’t be penalized for their choice of how to appeal.  

Here is the math - without change, the situation will get worse with the increasing number of claims being processed. There are over 450,000 appeals pending now; unless Congress authorizes reforms, the average wait time for a Veteran to receive an appeals decision will increase from three to five years, to more than 10 years.

For years, our appeals system was known to be a mess, but thought too difficult and too arduous to get a proposal through Congress—just too hard. Now consensus is built and Congress must act.  

VA is at a turning point, a time when there is an opportunity to build on the transformation already underway and finally overcome our long-standing barriers to success.  The legislative packages are there. The time for Congress to act on these initiatives is now.  Veterans don’t want to hear “it’s too hard.” They want and deserve solutions.

Robert McDonald is the eighth Secretary of Veterans Affairs serving under President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaYoung, diverse voters fueled Biden victory over Trump Biden's relationship with top House Republican is frosty The Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race MORE. Dr. James Peake was the sixth Secretary of Veterans Affairs having served under President George W. Bush.