December 07, 2021

Neguse Introduces Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislative Package to Help Low-Income Veterans Pursuing VA Compensation

The package would help improve cost and quality of care for low-income veterans seeking disability claims

Washington D.C.— Today, Congressman Joe Neguse unveiled a bipartisan, bicameral legislative package aimed at ensuring our nation’s veterans can access comprehensive health care coverage through the Veterans Administration (VA). The Veterans Pro Bono Corps Act, a bicameral measure Neguse unveiled today, would remove financial barriers for low-income veterans seeking to supplement their VA benefit claims by expanding pro bono medical care for veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Processing Claims Improvement Act of 2021, also unveiled today, will improve the VA's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims processing training. By improving the training of VA personnel who are responsible for processing disability claims, this bill would help ensure benefits are being correctly determined so our veterans experiencing PTSD have access to treatment and compensation.

“Our nation’s veterans have made immense sacrifices for our country and our freedom over the course of their service, but they often come back to a system that does not serve them adequately,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “I’m proud to introduce this critical legislative package to help veterans in the Second District and across the country navigate the complicated process of claiming disability benefits from the VA. It is on us to ensure all veterans are equipped with the resources necessary to equitably thrive in life after service.”

“I fully support the Veterans Pro Bono Corps Act because I’ve personally seen how difficult and expensive it can be for low-income veterans to obtain private medical documentation to support their VA disability claims. This long-overdue, bipartisan-supported Act will level the playing field for all veterans,” said Terry Rizzuti, Service Officer for American Legion Post 119, Estes Park, CO. “As a Vietnam Veteran and Purple Heart recipient, I sure wish it had been available when I filed my claim more than 20 years ago. Thank you Congressman Neguse, for your continued support on veterans issues.”

“As a veteran diagnosed with PTSD, I have personally experienced the complicated, error-ridden, nearly impossible to navigate process of filing for PTSD as a service connected disability,” said Chad Gagnon, Loveland Colorado. “It’s disheartening for Veterans who are already struggling with the mental and emotional fallout from our service time. For these reasons, I fully support the Department of Veterans Affairs Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Processing Improvement Act of 2021 as well as Congressman Neguse for his continued efforts to assist Veterans. For myself and the thousands like me, thank you.”

The Veterans Pro Bono Corps Act is the companion to the bipartisan Senate legislation introduced this October by Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Rob Portman (R-OH). If passed, the Act would establish a five-year pilot program authorizing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to award grants to medical residency and fellowship programs. These programs would then use the grants to provide independent, pro bono medical examinations and opinions to help eligible low-income veterans substantiate their VA compensation benefits claims. The Veterans Pro Bono Corps Act is endorsed by several veterans’ groups, including the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, AMVETS, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Read bill text HERE.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Processing Claims Improvement Act of 2021 would require implementation of recommendations made in a December 2020 report from the Office of the Inspector General, which estimated more than 15 percent of PTSD disability claims were inaccurately processed by VA personnel completed in FY2019. Additionally, the bill requires the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) Compensation Service to standardize trainings for regional office staff and establish a formal process to annually update training needs based on identified processing error trends. The bill is led by Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) in the Senate. 

Read bill text HERE. 

These bills follow three other bills to support veterans and military families that Congressman Neguse introduced in the last few months. The Veterans Job Training Act would authorize and expand the only federal grant program focused exclusively on equipping homeless veterans and the VET Student Loan Act would ensure disabled veterans and their families aren’t left with undue tax burden from student loan forgiveness benefits. Along with these measures, Congressman Neguse recently introduced a bill to provide expanded travel allowances to military families traveling to funerals, the measure passed the House along with the NDAA. 

Background:

When a veteran first files a disability compensation claim, the VA usually schedules them for a VA Compensation and Pension (C&P) examination to supplement the claim. However, the VA currently has a large backlog of C&P appointment requests, in turn leading to long delays in processing disability claims. The VA mostly outsources these examinations to private contractors in attempts to reduce the backlog, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has noted several problems with the quality and timeliness of care provided by these contractors.

Given these issues, some veterans seek and submit medical opinions from non-VA clinicians, but these evaluations can come at a great financial cost. Additionally, outside clinicians are often inexperienced in preparing supplemental materials for VA disability claims, making the claims process even more difficult for veterans who elect independent medical examiners.