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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today introduced a bill to help improve the quality and consistency of U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) disability claims appeals and help address the VA’s oldest pending claims.  Specifically, the bill would improve and expand pro bono legal services for veterans during their appeals process, and provide the Secretary of Veterans Affairs with additional authority to expedite consideration of unreasonably delayed claims.  

“It’s appalling that veterans wait an average of three and a half years to get a decision on their initial disability claims, and then almost three more years to get a verdict on their appeals claims,” said Shaheen. “Our veterans have served their country bravely and shouldn’t be stuck in a seemingly endless legal limbo to get answers regarding their benefits. Providing pro bono legal help to veterans is a simple way of reducing the appeals backlog. This additional assistance to veterans will help them get through a complex legal process and allow the VA’s judges and attorneys to process these claims more quickly.”

Veteran’s appeals for benefits are initially reviewed by the Board of Veterans Appeals before review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.  Since 1991, Congress has periodically authorized the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to work with the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to provide legal assistance to low-income veterans appearing before the court. Shaheen’s Veterans Appeals Assistance and Improvement Act of 2015 would allow the LSC to provide assistance to a veteran throughout their appeal process, including their appearance before the Board of Veterans Appeals, which handles a much larger backlog of claims.  The bill would also clarify that the LSC has authority to coordinate with legal clinics and other local legal assistance organizations to provide help to veterans.  These changes would provide more veterans with legal assistance and provide it earlier in the appeals process, which will result in faster and more equitable resolution of claims. 

In addition, the bill would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to target and accelerate adjudication of the most unreasonably delayed claims.

The bill text can be found here. The bill is currently co-sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).