Heinrich Continues To Tackle Veterans Claims Backlog

Bipartisan VA Backlog Working Group Release New Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined his VA Backlog Working Group colleagues in introducing the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, a comprehensive bill designed to create a system that can withstand surges in disability claims without generating another veteran disability claims backlog.

The Senators also released the VA Backlog Working Group 2015 Report, which identifies the progress that has been made on the claims backlog since 2014, the recommendations that have been implemented by the VA and Congress, and what actions must still be taken to fully transition the VA to a 21st century benefits delivery system.

"We have an obligation to provide our veterans with the best care and benefits we have to offer and without delay," said Sen. Heinrich. "This legislation accelerates the initial claims submission process and makes reducing the backlog a government-wide priority.  The ability to maintain the strongest and most dedicated military force in the world depends on our nation's ability to keep its promises to our veterans. We owe our service members more than a debt of gratitude when they return home--we owe them action in both our words and deeds."

Chairs of the VA Backlog Working Group, U.S. Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) are leading the effort, along with U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), David Vitter (R-La.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine)

The legislation and report are endorsed 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 and will continue to provide the Working Group with invaluable input.

The purpose of the Working Group was to provide a better understanding of the VA claims process and a forum for lawmakers, veterans, and VSOs to tackle the disability claim backlog. The report outlined the history of the backlog, and recommended legislative solutions to bring the system into the 21st century.

Since the introduction of the VA Claims Backlog Working Group's 2014 Report, the VA and Congress have implemented many of the recommendations proposed in the report.  However, the Senators have recognized more changes are needed to create a system that can withstand surges in claims without generating another backlog in the future. 

Details of the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act:

The 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act proposes three areas of improvement to the claims process to ensure more accurate and timely decisions for our nation's veterans.

Title I - Benefits Claims Submission. This title will assist and educate veterans on the benefits of submitting a completed claim and encourages the use of the resources and services available to help a veteran complete a claim.

  • Ensures veterans' have access to information about the claims process through eBenefits.
  • Encourages DOD to ensure VSOs have greater access to participate in Transition Assistance Program (TAP) seminars.
  • Grants more expeditious hearings for veterans appealing a claim decision.

Title II - Reforming Practices of VA Regional Offices. Personnel and management must be given tools to perform efficiently. This title institutes improvements to Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) processes to increase accuracy and efficiency at the regional office level, and ensure transparency.

  • Improves management through a GAO assessment of good management practices, implementation of a training program for certain managers, and establishing better communication with VSOs and Congress.
  • Ensures that critical issues-including the Resource Allocation Model, improvements to the Veterans Benefits Management System, and the inventory of dependency and non-rating related claims-are properly addressed by the VA. 
  • Increases transparency to the public and lawmakers 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.

  • Establishes better cooperation from federal agencies to transfer requested information.
  • Presses VBA employees to process information it receives from these agencies in a timely fashion.