December 12, 2018

House Committee On Veterans’ Affairs Examines VA Implementation Of Veterans Appeals Improvement And Modernization Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Ranking Member Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) released the following statement after she joined Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) in hosting a full Committee hearing examining the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implementation of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017:


“When the bipartisan Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 became law on August 23, 2017, it paved the way for a new and improved appeals process; one that would allow veterans to receive their appeals decisions faster and more accurately than ever before,” said Rep. Esty. “Under the old system, veterans were required to wait in excess of 7 years for their appeals to be decided, but thanks to this law, veterans now have new options for further review by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and will soon have additional options at the Board of Veterans Appeals. This will help reduce the time it takes claims to be processed while also reducing the existing claims backlog. I am incredibly proud to have been an original cosponsor of this legislation, and I am proud to play a role in ensuring its successful implementation.”


Rep. Esty Opening Statement As Prepared For Delivery


Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


I am happy to welcome everyone here today as we enter the home stretch on the implementation of the Appeals Modernization Act. 


Today is this Committee’s final check-in with GAO, the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Board of Veterans Appeals before the Act is fully implemented on February 14.


From what I am reading in the testimony, all systems are go. The Secretary is expected to certify in January that the VA has the resources, personnel, office space, procedures and information technology required.  


Before that happens next month, I just want to step back a little and remind us that the process by which we all arrived here is a model in large scale policy reform every Congressional Committee might want to take a look at.


First and foremost, this Appeals Modernization reform effort has been bipartisan from the beginning almost four years ago. 


Second, the statute involves an innovative system of progress reports from VA and GAO due at regular intervals as implementation planning played out. 


Third, full VSO participation at all stages was required in the statute. This is unprecedented, I am very happy to report that having checked with them this week and throughout the process, they are generally very pleased that crucial feedback from them was not only welcomed but incorporated in the veteran-facing communications and as they were developed, and in the regulations which are being finalized at OMB now.


I strongly encourage this structured VA-VSO communication to continue after the roll out because it is the veteran service representatives around the country working with veterans on their appeals that will be the most valuable sources of feedback possible for how the new system is functioning and what changes might need to be made quickly to keep it on track. 


Another innovation in this law worthy of study by policy wonks and political scientists is the authority provided in the statute for VA to pilot various components. Both VBA and BVA did avail themselves of this authority and I know that lessons learned in these pilots will mean a faster and fairer process for veterans in the end. 


So, as we are all sit here today on the verge of one of the most significant improvements in a generation in how veteran disability compensation claims appeals are processed, I want to congratulate all of those who have worked so hard on it.


Congratulations to the Chairman, Dr. Roe. To the DAMA Subcommittee Chairman, Mike Bost, to the leadership of the VA in two Administrations, Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Tester in the Senate, and of course, to the leadership of the VSOs, who were willing to put more than a few concerns and differences aside initially to come to the table in the interest of hammering out meaningful reform.


I have some questions about the IT systems I will ask later. But because this is my last opportunity as a member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to publicly comment on this important reform, I want to end my remarks first, with optimism about the possibilities it holds to provide more accurate and timely disability compensation to veterans, and secondly, with an appreciation for the unprecedented willingness all have shown to communicate and keep working toward the same goal over the last four years -- particularly in the sixteen months since the legislation was signed into law in August of 2017.


I am grateful for the opportunity to have been an original sponsor with Chairman Bost and leave you with my sincere best wishes for success in February.


I yield back.




Panel 1


The Honorable James Byrne

Acting Deputy Secretary

U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs


Accompanied by:


The Honorable Cheryl L. Mason


Board of Veterans’ Appeals

U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs


Mr. David R. McLenachen

Director, Appeals Management Office

Veterans Benefits Administration

U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs


Mr. Lloyd Thrower

Deputy Chief Information Officer, Account Manager, Benefits Portfolio

Office of Information & Technology

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs


Panel 2


Ms. Elizabeth H. Curda

Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Team

U.S. Government Accountability Office