WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced the Veterans Benefits Claims Faster Filing Act, a cost-neutral, bipartisan bill to help reduce the veterans disability claims backlog. The bill would require the Veterans Benefits Administration, an agency under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to provide veterans with accurate information for faster filing options.
Specifically, the bill would require the VA to track and post the average turnaround time for veterans when they are filing their claims. Filing claims online through the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program, instead of filing a paper claim, accelerates turnaround times and makes processing more efficient. The bill would require the VA to inform veterans that under current law, when they file a FDC, they are eligible to receive up to an extra year of benefits.
"Too many veterans are waiting far too long to receive the benefits they have earned," said Senator Martin Heinrich. "This commonsense approach will help accelerate the claims process while reducing the number of backlog claims. We have an obligation to keep America's promise to our veterans by providing them, without delay, the best care and benefits our country has to offer. Answering the call of duty runs deep throughout New Mexico's history, and I will continue to fight for our veterans just as they have heroically fought for us."
"It has taken years for the veterans claims backlog to reach critical levels, but as 10,000 Nevadans are waiting for their claims, we clearly do not have years to fix it. While there is no single bill that will magically reduce the backlog, it is legislation like this that takes another positive step forward. Providing accurate information to veterans at the point they submit a claim will save time for both the veteran and the Veterans Administration, and ultimately help the VA adjudicate the claim efficiently. I appreciate the opportunity to work with Senator Heinrich on this issue, and will continue to focus on ending the VA backlog," said Senator Dean Heller.
Claims pending for more than 125 days are characterized as "backlog." The VA's goal is to eliminate the backlog of compensation claims by the end of 2015. This bill would help achieve that goal.
The Veterans Benefits Claims Faster Filing Act is endorsed by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). "IAVA is proud to offer our support for Senators Heinrich and Heller's Faster Filing Act," said Tom Tarantino, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Chief Policy Officer. "This legislation would shorten the time that veterans must wait for their claims to be decided. Providing veterans with concrete information about quicker filing options will encourage veterans to initiate the claims process by crafting fully developed claims online. Providing critical information to veterans regarding the claims process helps ensure that VA is a veteran's strongest advocate, not a veteran's biggest obstacle."
The Veterans Benefits Claims Faster Filing Act closely corresponds with the Fully Developed Claims Community of Practice initiative, a program announced by the VA on May 21, 2013 to end the backlog by 2015 and process claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy. The VA can process FDCs in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed paper claim.
Currently, 82 percent of VA disability claims are still on paper. The bill helps ensure a veteran's claim never reaches the backlog. Currently, the average number of days it takes to process disability claims nationally is 330 days, and in New Mexico the average is 271 days.
The legislation is a companion bill to H.R. 1809 introduced by U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke (TX-16).