Thursday, Congressman Joe Donnelly introduced The Rating and Processing Individuals’ Disability (RAPID) Claims Act to improve the turnaround time and efficiency of the VA’s disability claims process.  Donnelly is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.

“We should do everything we can to continue to improve the timeliness and efficiency of getting veterans the benefits they’ve earned,” said Donnelly.  “My bill would take common-sense steps to improve the system and provide our wounded warriors a faster response on their disability claims.  We can always do more, and I pledge to continue fighting for those who selflessly fought for our freedoms and security.”

The Chairman of the Disability and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee, John Hall, leant his support to Donnelly’s efforts by cosponsoring the legislation upon its introduction.  Donnelly also worked closely with leading veterans’ advocates during the crafting of The RAPID Claims Act.  Both The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) support the legislation.    

“Reforming the VA claims processing system will require many new ideas to provide timely and accurate benefits to veterans while ensuring that all of their rights are protected,” said Joe Violante, DAV National Legislative Director.  “DAV commends Rep. Donnelly for introducing legislation that would codify the Fully Developed Claim program to ensure that participating veterans not only get quicker decisions on claims for disability compensation, but that they remain entitled to full benefits retroactive to the first date they notified VA of their intention to file a claim.”

“IAVA is proud to offer our support for Congressman Donnelly’s bill to help streamline the VA disability claims process,” said Tom Tarantino, IAVA Legislative Associate.  “Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are dealing with a claims process that is plagued by inefficiency and inaccuracy. Congressman Donnelly’s bill contains several commonsense solutions that will help veterans obtain the benefits that they deserve in a timely and accurate manner.”

Donnelly’s legislation would accomplish four things that have already been identified as time savers for the handling of veterans’ claims:

  • First, it would codify into law the VA’s nationwide Fully Developed Claim program which allows a veteran to bypass the lengthy claim development period by submitting a complete claim that needs no further substantiating evidence.  This program has been operating as a pilot program since 2008, and while VA announced on Tuesday that it would make the program available to all veterans nationally, it still lacks the permanence that comes with an Act of Congress. 
  • Second, Donnelly’s bill would amend the Fully Developed Claim program to allow veterans to notify the VA that a fully developed claim is forthcoming, which would secure the effective date of compensation for a veteran participating in the program.  Since the time it takes for a veteran to gather evidence on his own to support his fully developed claim can take months or up to a year, this could save a veteran hundreds or even thousands of dollars in compensation. 
  • Third, if the VA determines that a veteran’s fully developed claim is not eligible to be processed under the program for whatever reason, Donnelly’s bill would require the VA to notify the veteran of what the claim is lacking. 
  • Finally, the bill would require that when the VA provides any claim decision to a veteran, it must also automatically include an appeal form so that veterans wishing to appeal the VA’s decision can do so more quickly instead of having to ask for an appeal form and waiting for the VA to provide it.  Approximately 35,000 to 40,000 veterans appeal VA decisions each year.