Yesterday, during a Senate Committee On Veterans’ Affairs hearing, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) continued his effort to reduce the veterans disability claims backlog. In an opening statement, Senator Heinrich pressed the urgent need to pass S. 1148, the Veterans Benefits Claims Faster Filing Act, a bipartisan bill he introduced in June to help reduce the veterans disability claims backlog. The proposal would require the Veterans Benefits Administration, an agency under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to provide veterans with accurate information for faster filing options. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) is also a sponsor of the bill.
“On average it takes 113 days for veterans to receive a final disability rating if they file a Fully Developed Claim online, compared to 373 days if they file a non-Fully Developed Claims on paper,” said Sen. Heinrich in his remarks. “This bill seeks to ensure veterans are aware of the faster options available to them.”
Specifically, the bill would require the VA to track and post the average turnaround time for veterans when they are filing their claims. Filing claims online through the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program, instead of filing a paper claim, accelerates turnaround times and makes processing more efficient. The bill would also require the VA to inform veterans that under current law, when they file a FDC, they are eligible to receive up to an extra year of benefits.
In a statement issued at the time of the bill’s introduction, Tom Tarantino, Chief Policy Officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), said, “IAVA is proud to offer our support for Senators Heinrich and Heller’s Faster Filing Act. This legislation would shorten the time that veterans must wait for their claims to be decided. Providing veterans with concrete information about quicker filing options will encourage veterans to initiate the claims process by crafting fully developed claims online. Providing critical information to veterans regarding the claims process helps ensure that VA is a veteran’s strongest advocate, not a veteran’s biggest obstacle.”
Currently, the average number of days it takes to process disability claims nationally is 304 days. In New Mexico, the average is 271 days.
The legislation is a companion bill to H.R. 1809 introduced by U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke (TX-16).