U.S. Senator Marin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined his colleagues on the VA Backlog Working Group, U.S. Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.) Bob Casey (D-Pa.), David Vitter (R-La.) Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), to unveil the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Reform Act, a comprehensive bill designed to reduce the backlog of veterans' disability claims. The Senators also released the VA Backlog Working Group March 2014 Report in which the VA Backlog Working Group analyzes the many factors that contribute to the claims backlog.
"Too many veterans in New Mexico and across the country are waiting far too long to receive their earned benefits. This bipartisan proposal, which has overwhelming support from veterans' organizations, helps the VA achieve its goal to eliminate the backlog by 2015," said Senator Heinrich, an original cosponsor of the bill. "Whether accelerating the initial claims submission process, improving management structures at VA offices, or making the claims backlog a government-wide priority, this bill offers commonsense solutions to ensure every veteran receives their earned benefits without delay. Few sacrifices are as selfless as those our military service men and women make in defense of our country. We owe them more than a debt of gratitude -- we owe them action in both our words and deeds."
The report and legislation were embraced by several Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), including The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). These organizations have provided the Working Group with invaluable input.
Senators Heller and Casey, who are the lead sponsors of the bill, announced the formation of the VA Backlog Working Group in July. The Working Group provides a forum for lawmakers, veterans, and VSOs to tackle the disability claim backlog. The March 2014 Report is a product of input from these groups, and provides a broad guideline for areas of improvement that can help shape a more efficient system.
Details of the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act:
Whereas the VA Backlog Working Group March 2014 Report identifies problems in current processes, the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act aims to provide a comprehensive solution. The bill is divided into three sections:
Title I - Benefits Claims Submission. This section is designed to encourage, assist, and educate veterans on the benefits of submitting a completed claim, when possible, as well as reinforce the services available to help a veteran complete a claim.
- Includes proposals to improve veterans' access to information about the claims process;
- Provides Veterans Service Organizations and veterans' preferred secondary contact with better access to information;
- Authorizes monetary benefits to incentivize developed claims submission.
Title II - Reforming Practices of Regional Offices. Personnel and management must be given tools to perform efficiently. This section requires the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to make structural changes that increase accuracy and efficiency at the regional office level in the following ways:
- Calls for audit of regional offices of the Veterans Benefits Administration;
- Ensures improved accountability and oversight of VARO management;
- Provides resources to VBA employees and implements changes in process that allows VBA employees to move claims through the electronic benefits awards structure more efficiently;
- Improves transparency to the public on the size and scope of the current backlog.
Title III - Government Response. This section holds the government accountable and helps to ensure the claims process is a priority.
- Demands greater cooperation from federal agencies to transfer requested information;
- Presses VBA employees to process information it receives from these agencies in a timely fashion.