Charlie Tucker

House action responds to Legion concerns

The House of Representatives has passed legislation that includes provisions for reducing VA bureaucracy in disability-claims processing, and for recognizing businesses that hire veterans. Both measures address long-standing American Legion concerns about the VA claims backlog and the jobless rate among veterans.

The Veterans Appeals Improvement Act (H.R. 1484), passed May 31 and sponsored by Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., eliminates the VA Regional Office review of supplemental evidence for veterans’ disability-claims appeals. From now on, the law stipulates that such evidence “shall be submitted to the Board (of Veterans’ Appeals) directly and not to the agency of jurisdiction” as a standard procedure.

This measure removes a procedure that only slows down the disability-claims process,” said Verna Jones, director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division. “A VA Regional Office doesn’t need to look at new evidence submitted for an appeal on a claim. They’re not the ones deciding the merits of the case.”

The Legion has testified before Congress on numerous occasions about VA’s flawed claims-processing system, and offered suggestions on how to improve it. Most recently, in written testimony submitted to a June 2 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, the Legion said that “the No. 1 driving concern” of VA employees who process disability claims at Regional Offices “is to move files across their desks, no matter what the cost.”

“This new law means that VA claims processors will have fewer files to move across their desks, and that will contribute to more efficiency and less time wasted while veterans across the country are waiting for their VA benefits,” Jones said.

H.R. 802, an act passed June 1 and also sponsored by Filner, directs the VA Secretary “to establish a VetStar Award Program” that will “annually recognize businesses for their contributions to veterans’ employment.”

The American Legion has been recognizing such businesses since 1969 with its annual Employer of Veterans Awards, given out each year at the national convention to small, midsized and large businesses in the private sector with at least 10 percent of their work force filled by veterans.

“The VetStar program mirrors our own awards program for businesses that are doing right by our veterans, and hiring them when they return from overseas,” said Joe Sharpe, director of the Legion’s Economic Division.

Last year, the Legion recognized three companies for their commitment to hiring veterans: the Georgia Vietnam Veterans Alliance, Millennium Security Services, LLC, and Eagle Systems and Services, Inc. The Legion also gives annual awards to employers who excel in the hiring of older workers and disabled workers.

“We’re glad to see that Congress has given VA the authority to also bring recognition to employers who make a genuine effort to put or veterans back into the job market. With our young veterans suffering from an unemployment rate of about 27 percent, it’s only appropriate to say ‘thank you’ to companies in America that actually do something that allows our veterans to earn a steady paycheck,” Sharpe said.

On May 3, the Legion told Congress that it supported the establishment of the VetStar program. In written testimony before the Economic Opportunity subcommittee, the Legion said that “businesses that hire and retain veterans should be recognized for their continued contribution to the country.”