WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Sen. Tom Udall this week joined several senators to introduce a bill to help improve the quality and consistency of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims appeals and help address the VA’s oldest pending claims.
Specifically, the bill would improve and expand pro bono legal services for veterans during their appeals process, and provide the Secretary of Veterans Affairs with additional authority to expedite consideration of unreasonably delayed claims.
“The backlog of veterans’ disability claims prevents our veterans from accessing the benefits they have earned, and I’m continuing to push to eliminate the backlog and ensure that all claims are adjudicated as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Udall said. “Providing veterans with access to pro bono legal assistance is a common-sense step to reduce the appeals backlog, simplify navigation of the legal process for our veterans and help ensure the prompt resolution of claims.”
Veterans’ appeals for benefits are initially reviewed by the Board of Veterans Appeals before review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Since 1991, Congress has periodically authorized the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to work with the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to provide legal assistance to low-income veterans appearing before the court.
Udall’s Veterans Appeals Assistance and Improvement Act of 2015 would allow the LSC to provide assistance to a veteran throughout their appeal process, including their appearance before the Board of Veterans Appeals, which handles a much larger backlog of claims. The bill would also clarify that the LSC has authority to coordinate with legal clinics and other local legal assistance organizations to provide help to veterans. These changes would provide more veterans with legal assistance and provide it earlier in the appeals process, which will result in faster and more equitable resolution of claims.
In addition, the bill would authorize the VA Secretary to target and accelerate adjudication of the most unreasonably delayed claims.
The bill text can be found here. The bill is currently cosponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).