In May of this year Secretary Shinseki sent a letter to Congress asking that his draft legislation be considered and enacted. The Veterans Benefit Programs Improvement Act of 2010 consists of six main titles or sections. Working under the assumption that, like us, not everyone has the time to read page after of page of legal jargon, we decided to break down this proposed legislation. Hopefully it may help some of our veterans out there better understand how to take advantage of their benefits should the bill pass.
Title I: Compensation and Pension
The first section of the bill focuses mainly on VA compensation as well as improvements on establishing “presumptions of service” in connection with diseases and disorders. The laws are to be simplified in a way that would make it easier for disabled veterans as well as veteran spouses to receive pension payments. The bill should help to ensure the VA would have sufficient time to give thorough consideration to issues connecting service with diseases and disabilities. By simplifying the language which regulates the laws currently in place, veterans may have an easier time receiving benefits and pension payments.
We are all aware of the VA’s long standing challenges in quickly handling claims. Hopefully by minimizing the hurdles for our veterans and simplifying certain long standing rules, the VA can begin to make some much needed headway in this area.
Title II: Adjudication and Appeal Matters
This section is a bit controversial. The bill proposes ways to improve timeliness and efficiency with regard to the adjudication of VA claims and appeals. The bill would allow fees to be paid to legal council only after a veteran is awarded a benefit. In effect this could limit perpetual and unnecessary remands. In other words, the attorney wouldn’t be paid until they had resolved the issue in some way for their veteran client. This may also help unclog the current legal claims process. However, some would argue that this practice only harms a veteran’s ability to find legal council as very few lawyers may be willing to take a case when they would have to wait months or years before receiving compensation.
The proposal also reduces remands by maintaining that the VA need not specifically address every aspect of factual or legal matters having some bearing upon the Board’s decision. The Board may then disregard any unnecessary or otherwise erroneous information. Again, some would argue that while this may help speed up the legal process it could also make it difficult for a veteran to appeal to a higher court after the Board has made its ruling because “only a plausible basis would be required” in any ruling.
Finally, the VA is looking to implement certain technological advances that may speed up legal proceedings such as video conferencing. And it promotes modification of filing procedures for notices and appeals.
Title III: Veteran Loan Benefits
The third section deals with veteran loan benefits. Given that the demographics of our military have been shifting dramatically over the last decade, this section aims to aid single parents looking to use their benefits on behalf of their children while they are overseas. Currently the soldier or veteran had to occupy the home in order to obtain a VA loan. If this bill were to pass then the veteran may obtain a VA loan providing that the veteran’s children occupy the home.
This portion of the bill also addresses much needed relief to veterans whose homes may have been affected by natural disasters. It authorizes the Secretary to allow superior liens for those veterans in need of assistance and disaster relief. These changes would cut back on the number of foreclosures and claims against the VA loan guaranty.
Title IV: Education
Section four extends the expiration date for educational benefits through the VA. It also increases the incentives for employers to provide on the job training for veterans with disabilities and creates better efficiency for claiming VA educational benefits.
Title V: Insurance
Section five allows veterans who are covered by a Veterans Group Life Insurance program to purchase additional life insurance in instances when they are not receiving the maximum coverage allowed.
This section also permanently extends service members’ Group Life Insurance coverage for two years to Veterans who are totally disabled when they leave service.
Title VI: Authorities
Finally, the sixth section extends certain authorities on the VA’s behalf. Authority is extended to carry out income verification and the VA’s ability to use information generated by the Department of Health and Human Services in instances when the information may help adjust VA benefits.
Currently the bill sits in Congress awaiting a decision. At this time there is no way of knowing when the bill will pass or how much of the bill will be signed into law. However, the VA is making progress. These revisions coupled with the recently enacted PTSD regulations should help thousands of deserving veterans across the country.
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