On Wednesday, Congressman Joe Donnelly’s The Rating and Processing Individuals’ Disability (RAPID) Claims Act, H.R. 5549, was passed by voice vote out of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee as a part of The Veterans Benefits and Economic Welfare Improvement Act of 2010.  Donnelly introduced The RAPID Claims Act on June 17, 2010 to improve the turnaround time and efficiency of the VA’s disability claims process.

“While we have achieved much on behalf of our veterans in recent years, I think we all agree further steps are needed to reduce the wait times faced by veterans and to simplify the process,” 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.  Those who fought for our freedoms and security certainly deserve our very best.”

The RAPID Claims Act has 29 co-sponsors, including Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner and Disability and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee Chairman John Hall.  The bill also has the support of leading veterans’ advocates, including The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).     In July, Donnelly testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs in support of the RAPID Claims Act.  Watch a video of his testimony here.

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 in June 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 it can take up to a year for a veteran to gather evidence on his own to support his fully developed claim, 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.

The Veterans Benefits and Economic Welfare Improvement Act of 2010 is now pending before the full House of Representatives.