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S. 1203 (114th): 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery and Other Improvements Act


The text of the bill below is as of May 6, 2015 (Introduced).


II

114th CONGRESS

1st Session

S. 1203

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

May 6, 2015

(for himself, Mr. Casey, Mr. Moran, Mr. Manchin, Mr. Toomey, Mr. Heinrich, Mr. Vitter, Mr. Tester, and Ms. Collins) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs

A BILL

To amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the processing by the Department of Veterans Affairs of claims for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.

1.

Short title; table of contents

(a)

Short title

This Act may be cited as the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act.

(b)

Table of contents

The table of contents for this Act is as follows:

Sec. 1. Short title; table of contents.

TITLE I—Benefits claims submission

Sec. 101. Improvements to Transition Assistance Program.

Sec. 102. Requirement that decisions on claims explain advantages of filing appeals within 180 days.

Sec. 103. Determination of manner of appearance for hearings before Board of Veterans' Appeals.

TITLE II—Practices of regional offices

Sec. 201. Required Comptroller General audit of regional offices of Veterans Benefits Administration.

Sec. 202. Requirement for management training program for veterans service center managers of Veterans Benefits Administration.

Sec. 203. Analysis of communication between regional offices of Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans service organizations and Congressional caseworkers.

Sec. 204. Review of practices of regional offices regarding use of suspense dates.

Sec. 205. Annual report on capacity of Veterans Benefits Administration to process benefits claims.

Sec. 206. Requirement to complete efforts to revise resource allocation model of Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sec. 207. Semiannual report on progress in implementing Veterans Benefits Management System.

Sec. 208. Report on plans of Secretary of Veterans Affairs to reduce inventory of claims for dependency and indemnity compensation and claims for pension.

Sec. 209. Increased transparency in Monday Morning Workload Report.

Sec. 210. Reports on appeals of decisions on benefits claims.

Sec. 211. Modification of pilot program for use of contract physicians for disability examinations.

TITLE III—Government response

Sec. 301. Increased cooperation across Government.

Sec. 302. Report on interoperability between electronic health records systems of Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs.

I

Benefits claims submission

101.

Improvements to Transition Assistance Program

(a)

Modification To enable online access

Section 1144 of title 10, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:

(f)

Online access

(1)

The Secretary of Labor, in conjunction with the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, shall take such actions and make such modifications to the eBenefits Internet website as may be necessary to ensure that members of the armed forces and spouses described in subsection (a)(1) can access materials from the program carried out under this section through an Internet website.

(2)

An individual subject to a requirement under subsection (c) may not satisfy such requirement by participating in the program carried out under this section solely through an Internet website.

.

(b)

Participation of veterans service organizations

(1)

Sense of Congress

It is the sense of Congress that the Secretary of Defense, in collaboration with the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, should establish a process by which a representative of a veterans service organization may be present at any portion of the program carried out under section 1144 of title 10, United States Code, relating to the submittal of claims to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for compensation under chapter 11 or 13 of title 38, United States Code.

(2)

Report

(A)

In general

Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to Congress a report on participation of veterans service organizations in the program carried out under section 1144 of title 10, United States Code.

(B)

Contents

The report required by subparagraph (A) shall include the following:

(i)

An assessment of the compliance of facilities of the Department of Defense with the directives included in the memorandum of the Secretary of Defense entitled Installation Access and Support Services for Nonprofit Non-Federal Entities and dated December 23, 2014.

(ii)

The number of military bases that have complied with such directives.

(iii)

How many veterans service organizations have been present at a portion of a program as described in paragraph (1).

(3)

Veterans service organization defined

In this subsection, the term veterans service organization means any organization recognized by the Secretary for the representation of veterans under section 5902 of title 38.

102.

Requirement that decisions on claims explain advantages of filing appeals within 180 days

Section 5104(a) of title 38, United States Code, is amended—

(1)

by inserting (1) before In the case; and

(2)

by striking the second sentence and inserting the following new paragraph:

(2)

The notice shall include the following:

(A)

An explanation of the procedure for obtaining review of the decision.

(B)

An explanation of the advantages of filing for review of the decision within 180 days.

.

103.

Determination of manner of appearance for hearings before Board of Veterans' Appeals

(a)

In general

Section 7107 of title 38, United States Code, is amended—

(1)

by striking subsection (e);

(2)

by redesignating subsections (d) and (f) as subsections (f) and (g), respectively;

(3)

by inserting after subsection (c) the following new subsections (d) and (e):

(d)
(1)

Subject to paragraph (2), a hearing before the Board shall be conducted, as the Board considers appropriate—

(A)

in person; or

(B)

through picture and voice transmission, by electronic or other means, in such manner that the appellant is not present in the same location as the members of the Board during the hearing.

(2)

Upon request by an appellant, a hearing before the Board shall be conducted, as the appellant considers appropriate—

(A)

in person; or

(B)

through picture and voice transmission as described in paragraph (1)(B).

(e)
(1)

In a case in which a hearing before the Board is to be conducted through picture and voice transmission as described in subsection (d)(1)(B), the Secretary shall provide suitable facilities and equipment to the Board or other components of the Department to enable an appellant located at an appropriate facility within the area served by a regional office to participate as so described.

(2)

Any hearing conducted through picture and voice transmission as described in subsection (d)(1)(B) shall be conducted in the same manner as, and shall be considered the equivalent of, a personal hearing.

; and

(4)

in subsection (f)(1), as redesignated by paragraph (2), by striking An appellant may request and all that follows through office of the Department and inserting In a case in which a hearing before the Board is to be conducted in person, the hearing shall be held at the principal location of the Board or at a facility of the Department located within the area served by a regional office of the Department..

(b)

Effective date

The amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply with respect to cases received by the Board of Veterans' Appeals pursuant to notices of disagreement submitted on or after the date of the enactment of this Act.

II

Practices of regional offices

201.

Required Comptroller General audit of regional offices of Veterans Benefits Administration

(a)

In general

Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Comptroller General of the United States shall complete an audit of the regional offices of the Veterans Benefits Administration—

(1)

to assess the consistency of decisions being made with respect to claims for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs; and

(2)

to identify ways in which the consistency of such decisions can be improved.

(b)

Identification of factors and best practices

The audit conducted under subsection (a) shall include the following:

(1)

Identification of the factors, including management practices, that distinguish higher performing regional offices from other regional offices.

(2)

Identification of best practices employed by higher performing regional offices that distinguish the performance of such offices from other regional offices.

(c)

Report

Not later than 90 days after the date on which the Comptroller General completes the audit required by subsection (a), the Comptroller General shall submit to Congress a report on the results of the audit.

202.

Requirement for management training program for veterans service center managers of Veterans Benefits Administration

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall establish a training program for veterans service center managers, or for employees in successor positions in regional offices of the Veterans Benefits Administration, on matters concerning managerial skills and such other skills as the Secretary considers appropriate for such managers.

203.

Analysis of communication between regional offices of Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans service organizations and Congressional caseworkers

(a)

In general

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall ensure that each systemic analysis of operations that is completed by a veterans service center manager in a regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs includes an analysis of the communication between the regional office and veterans service organizations and caseworkers employed by Members of Congress.

(b)

Veterans service organization defined

In this section, the term veterans service organization means any organization recognized by the Secretary for the representation of veterans under section 5902 of title 38, United States Code.

204.

Review of practices of regional offices regarding use of suspense dates

(a)

Review required

Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs shall conduct a review of the practices of regional offices of the Department regarding the use of suspense dates during the disability claim assessment process.

(b)

Report

Not later than 270 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Inspector General of the Department shall submit to Congress a report on the findings of the Inspector General with respect to the review conducted under subsection (a).

(c)

Suspense date defined

In this section, the term suspense date means a measure used by the Veterans Benefits Administration to set incremental deadlines for disability claims as they progress through the disability claim assessment process.

205.

Annual report on capacity of Veterans Benefits Administration to process benefits claims

(a)

In general

Along with the supporting information included in the budget submitted by the President for fiscal year 2017 pursuant to section 1105(a) of title 31, United States Code, and with the supporting information included in each budget submittal under such section thereafter, the President shall include a report that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall prepare on the capacity of the Veterans Benefits Administration to process claims for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary during the fiscal year covered by the budget with which the report is submitted.

(b)

Contents

Each report submitted under subsection (a) shall include, for the period covered by the report, the following:

(1)

The number of claims for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary that the Secretary expects the Veterans Benefits Administration to process.

(2)

The number of full-time equivalent employees of the Veterans Benefits Administration who are dedicated to processing such claims.

(3)

An estimate of the average number of such claims a single full-time equivalent employee of the Administration can process in a year, based on a time and motion study that the Secretary shall conduct on the processing of such claims.

(4)

An assessment of whether the Administration requires additional or fewer full-time equivalent employees to process such claims during the next one-year, five-year, and ten-year periods.

(5)

A description of the actions the Secretary will take to improve the processing of such claims.

(6)

An assessment of the actions identified by the Secretary in the previous report submitted under subsection (a) and identification of the effects of those actions.

(c)

Public availability

The Secretary shall make each report required by subsection (a) available to the public on an Internet website of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

206.

Requirement to complete efforts to revise resource allocation model of Department of Veterans Affairs

(a)

In general

Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall complete the efforts of the Department of Veterans Affairs to revise the resource allocation model of the Veterans Benefits Administration.

(b)

Report

Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Veterans' Affairs of the House of Representatives a report on the resource allocation model revised pursuant to subsection (a).

207.

Semiannual report on progress in implementing Veterans Benefits Management System

(a)

In general

Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act and not less frequently than once every 180 days thereafter until the date that is three years after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall submit to Congress a report on the progress of the Secretary in implementing the Veterans Benefits Management System.

(b)

Contents

The report required by subsection (a) shall include the following:

(1)

An assessment of the current functionality of the Veterans Benefits Management System.

(2)

Recommendations submitted to the Secretary by employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs who are involved in processing claims for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary, including veteran service representatives, rating veteran service representatives, and decision review officers, for such legislative or administrative action as the employees consider appropriate to improve the processing of such claims.

(3)

Recommendations submitted to the Secretary by veterans service organizations who use the Veterans Benefits Management System for such legislative or administrative action as the veterans service organization consider appropriate to improve such system.

208.

Report on plans of Secretary of Veterans Affairs to reduce inventory of claims for dependency and indemnity compensation and claims for pension

Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall submit to Congress a report that details the plans of the Secretary to reduce the inventory of—

(1)

claims submitted to the Secretary for compensation under chapter 13 of title 38, United States Code; and

(2)

claims submitted to the Secretary for pension under chapter 15 of such title.

209.

Increased transparency in Monday Morning Workload Report

(a)

Disaggregation of claims by decisions requiring disability rating

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall include in each Monday Morning Workload Report published by the Secretary the number of claims for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary that have been received by a regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs and are pending a decision, disaggregated by—

(1)

claims that have been pending for more than 125 days;

(2)

claims that have been pending for 125 days or fewer; and

(3)

claims that do not require a decision concerning a disability rating.

(b)

Inclusion of information on assignment of partial ratings

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall include in each Monday Morning Workload Report published by the Secretary in the portion of the report entitled Transformation and in the portion of the report entitled Aggregate the number of partial ratings assigned.

(c)

Report on fully developed claims

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall include in each Monday Morning Workload Report published by the Secretary the following:

(1)

The total number of fully developed claims for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary that—

(A)

have been received by a regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs; and

(B)

are pending a decision.

(2)

The total number of such claims that have been pending for more than 125 days, disaggregated by station.

(d)

Station defined

In this section, the term station means the location of a regional office of the Department where claims for disability compensation are processed.

210.

Reports on appeals of decisions on benefits claims

(a)

Public availability

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall make the reports of the Department of Veterans Affairs entitled Appeals Pending and Appeals Workload By Station available to the public on an Internet website of the Department.

(b)

Appeals granted by station

The Secretary shall include in one of the reports described in subsection (a) the percentage of appeals granted by station.

(c)

Claims previously adjudicated by Appeals Management Center

The Secretary shall include in one of the reports described in subsection (a) the percentage of claims previously adjudicated by the Appeals Management Center that were either subsequently granted or remanded by the Board of Veterans' Appeals.

(d)

Station defined

In this section, the term station means the location of a regional office of the Department where claims for disability compensation are processed.

211.

Modification of pilot program for use of contract physicians for disability examinations

Section 504 of the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 1996 (Public Law 104–275; 38 U.S.C. 5101 note) is amended—

(1)

by redesignating subsections (c) and (d) as subsections (d) and (e), respectively; and

(2)

by inserting after subsection (b) the following new subsection (c):

(c)

Licensure of contract physicians

(1)

In general

Notwithstanding any law regarding the licensure of physicians, a physician described in paragraph (2) may conduct an examination pursuant to a contract entered into under subsection (a) at any location in any State, the District of Columbia, or a Commonwealth, territory, or possession of the United States, so long as the examination is within the scope of the authorized duties under such contract.

(2)

Physician described

A physician described in this paragraph is a physician who—

(A)

has a current license to practice the health care profession of the physician; and

(B)

is performing authorized duties for the Department of Veterans Affairs pursuant to a contract entered into under subsection (a).

.

III

Government response

301.

Increased cooperation across Government

(a)

Appointment of liaisons

(1)

Department of Defense

The Secretary of Defense shall appoint individuals as follows:

(A)

At least one individual to act as a liaison under this section between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(B)

At least one individual for each of the reserve components of the Armed Forces to act as a liaison under this section between the respective component of the Armed Forces and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(2)

National Archives and Records Administration

The Archivist of the United States shall appoint at least one individual to act as a liaison under this section between the National Archives and Records Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(b)

Duties of liaisons

Each individual acting as a liaison under this section shall expedite the timely provision to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs of such information as the Secretary requires to process claims submitted to the Secretary for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary.

(c)

Procedures

(1)

In general

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Secretary of Defense, and the Archivist of the United States shall jointly develop and implement procedures to improve the timely provision to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs of such information as the Secretary requires to process claims submitted to the Secretary for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary.

(2)

Timely provision

The procedures developed and implemented under paragraph (1) shall ensure that the information provided to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs is provided to the Secretary not later than 30 days after the date on which the Secretary requests the information.

(d)

Annual reports

Not less frequently than once each year, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall submit to Congress a report on—

(1)

the requests for information made by the Secretary during the most recent one-year period for information from the Secretary of Defense and the Archivist of the United States required by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to process claims submitted to the Secretary for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary; and

(2)

the timeliness of responses to such requests.

302.

Report on interoperability between electronic health records systems of Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs

Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall jointly submit to Congress a report that sets forth a timeline with milestones for achieving interoperability between the electronic health records systems of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.