Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee End Session Activities
Bills of Importance may fall by the wayside!

Now that the 110th Congress is coming to a close, will important veteran legislation just sit in the “in-basket”?

One bill, in particular deserves watching. On August 1, just before the beginning of Congress’s summer recess, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) delivered S. 3419 Matters Relating to Modernizing the Disability Compensation System of the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Senate. This bill was cosponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer [D, NY]. This bill is the Senate companion to H.R. 5892, Veterans Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act of 2008 championed by Representative John Hall, chairman of the Veterans' Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.

So what does this bill actually do? Here is a summary at a glance:

Veterans Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act of 2008 - Revises or adds provisions relating to the disability compensation system of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to: (1) require a study on adjusting the schedule for rating veterans' disabilities; (2) establish the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation; (3) require a study on the employee work credit system of the VA's Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA); (4) require a study on the VBA's work management system; (5) require the certification and training of VBA employees responsible for processing claims; (6) require an annual independent assessment of the VBA's quality assurance program; (7) provide for the expedited VBA treatment of fully developed claims and a checklist for individuals submitting incomplete claims; (Cool require a study of the VBA's need to employ additional medical professionals to act as a medical reference for employees handling claims; (9) provide for the assignment of partial disability ratings to certain veterans; (10) require a review and revision of VBA use of information technology; and (11) allow a claim beneficiary to be substituted as a claimant in the case of the death of a veteran claimant while a claim is awaiting adjudication or appeal.

Furthermore, this proposed legislation requires the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to report annually to the congressional veterans' committees on the Court's workload and revises provisions concerning the jurisdiction and finality of decisions of the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims.

While reviewing this bill with a group of veteran advocates, it was brought to my attention that they thought the bill allowed too much time for evaluation studies in some areas. However the requirement for an external quality audit of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs would go into place almost immediately as protection for widows in the claims process. These are two very important elements that need to be immediately implemented.

My response to the veteran advocates is consider the consequences, while a shorter period of implementation time is always desirable in veteran issues, the quality of the results of a study must be considered. There has been too much knee jerk reaction, with no planned direction, in the past that has allowed Department of Veterans’’ Affairs to degenerate to its present state.

The question at hand is: What will Senator Daniel Akaka do in the waning days of this Congressional session? He is, after all, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. His job is to actively and vigorously pursue positive legislative implementations to better the lives of our veterans. But as he rides out the last few months of his career, “active and Vigorous” are absolutely inapplicable to Senator Akaka. It appears he has decided to let these last few months slide by without his full commitment. “Make no waves” comes to mind. After creating major controversy with the extremely anti-veteran introduction of S. 2026, Agent Orange Equitable Compensation Act at the behest of the White House, he has tried ineffectively to portray that particular activity as a “required” courtesy to the White House but ended up providing fodder for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to deny a complete class of Vietnam veterans he has been mostly silent. If that’s all the good Senator can do, then give the job to somebody else, because 90+ days is a long time to let important issues like this just sit on the desk, unattended and ignored.

Wally Ward

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