VA clashes with veterans, lawmakers over efforts restoring 48-hour disability claims review process

Abbie Bennett
July 16, 2020 - 3:33 pm
VA

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Department of Veterans Affairs officials and Capitol Hill lawmakers collided Thursday over an effort to reinstate a 48-hour process allowing veteran service organizations to help vets review benefits decisions before they're finalized. 

Lawmakers and veteran advocates blasted VA leaders for nixing the review period during the pandemic after it had been in place for years. 

Members of Congress and veteran service organization representatives argued the "essential practice" of the 48-hour review helps ensure claims decisions are accurate to avoid delays caused by a lengthy appeals process. But VA officials argued the review period was "no longer appropriate" and even "legally suspect." 

Previously, according to VA policy, representatives accredited by the department had 48 hours to review a new disability rating decision on behalf of veterans they served. VA revoked that process in April, igniting criticism. Lawmakers and advocates called on VA to reverse course and went a step further, appealing to President Donald Trump. The White House has so far been silent on the issue, advocates told Connecting Vets. 

Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, introduced the Veterans Claim Transparency Act earlier this month to reinstate the 48-hour review period. During Thursday's House Veterans Affairs Committee subpanel hearing, Allred said the process serves as an "extra check on the accuracy of benefit determinations" and helps "identify technical mistakes and errors that can affect veterans' benefits ... a simple step to make sure veterans get the benefits they're owed." Senate Democrats also introduced a similar measure previously. 

But VA officials pushed back.

Deputy Executive Director of Compensation Service Laurine Carson defended the VA's decision to remove the 48-hour review opportunity. She argued the review process was unfair for the veterans who don't have representatives to check on their claims. About 32 percent of veterans have had representatives to check for them, she said. 

"We don't disagree that we want claims to be done well and accurately," Carson told lawmakers. "But we do believe ... we have the mechanism that (VSOs) can work with. We've taken nothing away, as far as representation." 

The review process isn't necessary anymore now that VA's claims process is done electronically, Carson said, and restoring it could cause further delays and complications. 

VA's written testimony submitted to Congress ahead of Thursday's hearing said enacting Allred's legislation could cost millions, require the department to hire more staff, create a new program office and establish a new IT system. For the first year, VA argued the legislation could cost as much as $65 million.

VA officials also said restoring the review process could invite feedback which could further delay for benefits decisions. 

Lawmakers and veteran advocates disagreed with VA's assertions the review process was no longer necessary, not beneficial or legally questionable and had strong words for the department. 

Allred accused VA of working against veterans and their advocates. Previously, VSO leaders said they were left out of the decision entirely. 

"These organizations that exist solely for the purpose of benefiting veterans have come to you, told you this decision would make it harder for them to get veterans the benefits they're owed," Allred said. "You're aware of that and did it anyway."

VA's decision to remove the review process, and it's arguments against reinstating it, were"illogical and border on the absurd," said Matthew Doyle, deputy director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Legislative Service. "

"What the 48-hour review process is capable of, and what it did for veterans, is almost incalculable," said Shane Liermann, DAV deputy legislative director for benefits. "It could correct something so much faster than the appeals process could ... Veterans should not have to wait months or years to get their correct benefits they're entitled to right now." 

Next, Allred's bill heads to the full House Veterans Affairs Committee for consideration and a possible vote to send it to the House floor. 

 

Lawmakers, VSOs call on VA, Trump to halt benefit process changes during pandemic

Lawmakers seek solutions for vets denied benefits after VA canceled exams amid COVID-19

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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