WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley has co-sponsored two bipartisan bills to improve services to veterans, one to reduce the appeals backlog for services through the Veterans Benefits Administration and another to help with suicide prevention among female veterans.
“When it comes to services for veterans, there are always ways to do things better and new considerations that need attention,” Grassley said. “I keep an eye out for measures that will make sure agencies follow through on the services earned by veterans through their work for our country.”
Grassley co-sponsored the Express Appeals Act of 2016 (S. 2473), which would establish a new, voluntary five-year pilot program to help reduce the large backlog of appeals made by veterans to the Veterans Benefits Administration. The program would establish a fast track to consider the appeals of denied claims if the appeal contains all the evidence and is fully complete and ready for review when it is submitted. There is already such a process for submitting the original claims, but not appeals.
“The VA has made progress reducing the backlog of claims, but the appeals backlog is now increasing and it can take two years or more for an appeal,” Grassley said. “This is a concern mentioned by most of the veterans groups, and I understand their concern that hundreds of thousands of veterans have long waits on their appeals after the denial of services.”
Grassley also co-sponsored the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (S. 2487), introduced in response to the alarming increases in suicide among female veterans detailed in a recent Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study. The bill requires the VA to include specific metrics on female veterans in its annual evaluation of mental health and suicide prevention programs and requires the agency to identify which programs are the most effective and have the highest satisfaction rates among female veterans.
Grassley has a long record of legislation and oversight to improve veterans services. He successfully pressed for the increased hiring of veterans at the Internal Revenue Service. After the recent Veterans Affairs waiting list scandal, he contributed to legislation, ultimately enacted, to make it easier to remove senior officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs for poor performance.
Grassley also has worked to improve mental health services for veterans. He co-sponsored the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, given unanimous Senate approval and signed into law. The legislation builds on the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, enacted in 2007. The Omvig Act, a bipartisan bill that Grassley co-sponsored as the lead Senate Republican, was named after an Iraq War veteran from Iowa who committed suicide in 2005. It sought to improve mental health services for veterans and reduce the incidence of suicide. He is an original co-sponsor of a pending bill from Sen. Joni Ernst to allow veterans to get mental health care from private physicians if the VA can’t see them when they need it.
As part of his focus on agencies’ use of extensive paid administrative leave, Grassley cited the VA’s “troubled record” in that area, including reportedly placing employees on such leave pending investigations into their inappropriate actions related to secret VA waiting lists, as well as accusations of using administrative leave as retaliation for employees who objected to instructions to manipulate appointment times or other improper practices. Last month, the committee of jurisdiction passed legislation Grassley co-authored to cut down on excessive administrative leave across federal agencies.