APPROPRIATIONS BILL INCLUDES SHAHEEN PROPOSALS TO ADDRESS VETERANS APPEALS BACKLOG

Committee also clears Shaheen amendments to address VA health care

May 22, 2014

(WASHINGTON, DC) – Provisions authored by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) that will help reduce the veterans’ disability claims backlog and improve health care access for New Hampshire veterans cleared the full Senate Appropriations Committee today as part of the FY 2015 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies funding bill. With Shaheen’s provisions included, the appropriations bill will help reduce the VA disability claims appeals backlog, and increase accessibility to care for veterans living in underserved areas as well as strengthen veterans support programs.

“All of our veterans deserve access to quality health care and support programs and right now the VA isn’t getting the job done,” Shaheen said. “There are serious problems at the VA that must be addressed, and the bill we passed today takes steps in the right direction by investing in staff resources to address the appeals claims backlog. But that’s not enough – we must make good on the promise of quality, accessible care we have made to each of the men and women who have served in uniform.  What’s happening right now is entirely unacceptable and I will continue pressing forward with VA reforms on behalf of all who have served our country.”

The Military Construction, VA and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill includes language similar to provisions of the Veterans Appeals Improvement Act that Shaheen introduced earlier this month to immediately increase the VA’s capacity in underserved areas in  an effort to reduce the disability claims appeals backlog. Specifically, the appropriations markup moves on this proposal by providing funding for the additional hiring of Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) Decision Review Officers who help process appeals claims. The Government Accountability Office reports that nationally the number of appeals awaiting a decision grew 76 percent from fiscal years 2009 to 2012 and during that period the average processing time increased 57 percent, from 293 days to 460 days, particularly at the Regional Office level.

The funding bill includes a Shaheen amendment that would require the VA to address the expansion of VA care in New Hampshire through a series of reports to Congress on the issue. Additionally, Shaheen worked to fully fund women veterans’ health services as well as the inclusion of provisions supporting the Rural Health Initiative, which provides veterans with important services like mobile clinics, fee-based care, telemedicine, and collaborations with other providers. 

Shaheen has worked tirelessly to make care more accessible for New Hampshire veterans, recently announcing the approval of two VA health care sites in the North Country and has also co-sponsored legislation that would require  the VA to expand access to health care for New Hampshire veterans.  Earlier this year she introduced two pieces of legislation to bolster job and economic opportunities for the nation’s veterans, and she has also been a lead proponent of encouraging veterans legal clinics to provide veterans with basic legal services to help reduce the claims backlog.