Doug Friedman Writes Open Letter to Alabama Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions About Bill Passed by House That Would Reform the VA Appeals Process

By Douglas I. Friedman of Friedman Law Firm, P.C.

September 21, 2016

Dear Senator Shelby,

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5620, the VA Accountability and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016. This bill reforms the process for veterans to appeal their VA disability compensation claims.

My law office represents hundreds of veterans for their disability compensation claims, and we speak with many more about their potential cases each month. If nothing else we inform them of their rights and the proper procedures to claim their benefits. We have deep knowledge and experience about these matters and are concerned that any legislation treat the veterans fairly. We do not seek anything for them other than the benefits they deserve, and the protection of the rights they served our country to protect.

While I recognize the need for appeals reform, the reform measures endorsed by VA do not adequately protect veterans’ due process rights. So, I do not support the legislation as currently written. Here are three major concerns:

  1. The legislation in its current form will discourage a veteran from exercising the right to judicial review before the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Specifically, the legislation does not extend effective date relief to CAVC decisions. VA has also taken the position that a veteran cannot seek review before the CAVC of a Board of Veterans Appeals denial and simultaneously submit new evidence before VA to preserve the original effective date. If VA’s intent is fulfilled, it would force a veteran to choose between seeking review of legal error in the BVA decision or filing a supplemental claim in hope of preserving the effective date. This result is not only contrary to the veteran-friendly scheme designed by Congress, but it also potentially prevents the Court from correcting prejudicial legal errors, e.g., statutory violations and misinterpretations of law.
  2. The legislation does not provide for effective docket management. Specifically, a veteran who chooses to submit new evidence before BVA, but who does not want a personal hearing, will be forced to wait with those veterans who are requesting a hearing. BVA currently has a backlog of over 70,000 hearing requests and can usually accommodate only about 11,000 hearings per year. Veterans who only want to submit new evidence will be unfairly delayed.
  3. The legislation does not provide a realistic plan for how the more than 450,000 pending appeals will be handled in a timely and fair fashion.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to have your offices contact me. Thank you for your consideration.

Very truly yours,

Douglas I. Friedman, Friedman Law Firm, P.C.