Released 4/26/16 | Tags: Congressional Legislation
The Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing on Thursday, April 28, 2016 at 10:00am Eastern time to hear testimony and discuss proposed changes to the veterans appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The National Veterans Legal Services Program and the Veterans Law Institute at Stetson University's College of Law submitted a statement to the committee that supports the changes, but with two significant caveats. Read the full statement submitted to the subcommittee.
The statement summary is below:
The proposed legislation contains a far-reaching restructuring of the VA administrative appeals process. It contains many positive features that are likely to decrease appeal times while providing claimants with various options for pursing their appeals. As with any substantial change to a complex system, there will clearly be effects that we cannot now predict. But given that the current appeals process is not functioning well, we have ultimately concluded that the proposed legislation – even without being able to predict all of its effects – is a necessary step, with two important caveats.
First, an amendment to the proposed legislation is needed to avoid the litigation and disruption of the appeals process that will be generated by the way VA officials are interpreting the proposed legislation. According to VA officials, including Secretary McDonald, after a Board of Veterans’ Appeals decision disallowing a claim, the veteran would be required under the proposed legislation to make a choice between (i) appealing to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and (ii) filing a supplemental claim with the regional office, in order to preserve the date of filing the initial claim as the potential effective date. Before this legislation is passed, Congress should amend the proposal to prevent VA’s interpretation, since the choice VA wishes to impose on veterans is contrary to the interests of justice and the pro-claimant process that Congress long ago created.
Second, an amendment is necessary to the wording of the lower threshold standard in the proposed legislation for requiring VA to readjudicate a claim that has previously been disallowed in order to ensure that VA uniformly interprets this standard to be a minor hurdle.