|Dear Legion Family Members and Friends,As the legislative days of the 114th Congress dwindle, there is still vital legislation for lawmakers to address. At the top of the list is legislation to address VA’s benefits appeals process.With the help of The American Legion, the benefit appeals process at VA must be fixed and brought into the 21st century.
The American Legion is deeply connected with and concerned about the appeals process. Currently, the Legion holds power of attorney on about 750,000 veterans claimants. The Legion spends more than $2 million a year on veterans claims, appeals processing and assistance. Our membership should take great pride in the Legion’s high success rate for assisting veterans with their claims and appeals.
But the Legion’s charge goes well beyond assisting individual veterans. We have an obligation to ensure that the institutions and systems that serve veterans are working as intended. And when they are not, we step up to help fix them.
When the claims backlog grew to tremendous levels several years back, the Legion worked with Congress and VA to address it so that VA disability benefits and services would be provided in a timely and efficient manner. That effort resulted in a reduction in backlogged claims by almost 90 percent. For veterans, that means better and faster claims decisions.
But as VA has become more efficient in claims processing, the number of veterans seeking appeals has risen proportionally. That has revealed the unworkability of a process that too often churns claims rather than providing timely appeals decisions for veterans. Unquestionably, the appeals process is time-consuming and frustrating for vets.
Earlier this year, The American Legion, along with other major veterans service organizations, state and county service officers, veterans advocate attorneys and others worked with senior VA officials from the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Board of Veterans Appeals to design the framework of legislation to simplify and expedite the appeals process.
The result was the VA Appeals Modernization Act of 2016. The legislation would provide veterans with a simple, fair and transparent appeals process in which the vast majority would receive a final appeals decision within one year of filing an appeal. We are proud of this legislation. Now we need your help to get it signed into law.
A CALL TO ACTION
As my year as American Legion national commander draws to a close, I am reaching out to you for assistance. Most U.S. senators and representatives will be on recess in their home districts to meet with constituents now through Labor Day. This is a great opportunity for you to visit your elected officials’ local offices and advise them of yours and the Legion’s concerns on this important matter.
Let your elected officials know that VA’s benefits appeals process needs to be reformed now. The status quo isn’t acceptable. The American Legion strongly urges congressional action on appeals modernization when lawmakers return to Washington in September.
This call to action is the first in a series of actions we will take as we work toward passage of this legislation. Please expect to receive and act upon them when you hear the call.
When I began my journey last year as your commander, I asked American Legion Family members to make the most of their time. I again challenge each of you today to dedicate yourself to the principles of my motto: Duty. Honor. Country.
Help your fellow veterans by joining the call to action now to modernize VA’s appeals process.
Duty. Honor. Country.