The U.S. House of Representatives passed a series of bi-partisan bills Tuesday, designed to modernize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) appeals process and alleviate backlogs, including the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act of 2017 sponsored by Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN).
Walz introduced the bill following a KARE 11 investigation that exposed how veterans searching for information about their benefits claims were being routed to one number that was disconnected and another that rang repeatedly without being answered.
Walz said the phone problems were a symptom of a much bigger problem.
“I can tell you this. The appeals process is broken," Walz told KARE 11 at the time. “That it’s creating an untenable backlog.”
KARE 11’s investigation revealed how Air Force veteran Bob Morris of Avon, Minnesota, ran into the broken phone system while trying to get information about an Agent Orange benefits claim he’s been fighting for since 2005. Morris is battling heart disease and cancer. He believes both are a result of his exposure to the chemical.
Walz said no veteran should have to wait that long.
“The problem is, if Bob’s appeal would have been heard in a timely manner, he wouldn’t be needing to make this call,” Walz said.
Walz sponsored the bill along with U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA). The legislation is designed to cut VA red tape by allowing private local doctors to do disability exams. It would also speed the appeal process if there’s a denial.
VA records show that as of March 1, there was a backlog of 469,098 benefits appeals claims. The average appeal can take five years to resolve.
The legislation also requires the VA to complete an annual report that tracks the reasons why disability claims submitted using evidence by local doctors are being denied.
After the House vote, Rep. Walz issued a statement acknowledging bi-partisan support for the bill.
“Today, members on both sides of the aisle came together to pass important legislation that will modernize the VA appeals process while significantly reducing the appeals backlog,” he said.
The legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate.
“When a veteran files an appeal for disability compensation, they deserve to have their appeal decided in a timely manner,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), a doctor who chairs the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
After KARE 11’s investigation, the VA announced plans to shut down an antiquated phone center and re-route calls from veterans to a modern facility.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) credited the Minnesota veteran and KARE 11 for bringing national attention to serious problems with the VA phone center.
“Bob Morris has done a service for all veterans across the country because what he came upon was a mess,” Klobuchar said.
Our investigation of VA phone problems began after a tip from a viewer. If you want to blow the whistle on a problem, email us at: email@example.com