(August 15, 2017) Congress has approved legislation designed to trim the average wait time of two years to have an appeal heard by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act passed the House last week during a pro forma session after passing the Senate on its final day of work before the current August recess. The pro forma session, which allows business to be completed while members are absent, was necessary because the House is also on recess.
The legislation is now awaiting the signature of President Donald Trump to become law.
The bill streamlines the appeals process by offering veterans multiple options. In one, they can waive their ability to submit new evidence at any time or have official hearings in return for a quicker resolution, according to Military Times. In another change, the veterans would face stricter timelines to submit information, but would receive a timely response.
The slow process has caused a backlog of more than 470,000 appeals, leading to an average wait time of five years for a disability claim. Rep. Dana Titus, D-Nev., who has championed the cause said in a release that the average wait time overall is two years and would have ballooned to 10 years without the legislation.
“With the passage of this bill, our nation will finally modernize a snarled system that’s only had one major update since it was first developed in 1933,” she said in a statement. “Together with the VA, veterans service organizations, and other lawmakers, we were able to find a bipartisan compromise to ensure that veterans . . . receive the benefits they so bravely earned in a timely fashion.”
The bill also simplifies the notification process and provides better oversight of cases. The VA said the fixes will take about 18 months to implement after the bill is signed, but will eventually reduce the backlog while shrinking wait times.