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NOVA Advocates for Changes to S. 1024 Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017

On May 17, 2017, the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, Inc. presented a statement to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs concerning pending legislation entitled S.B. 1024, Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. Founded in 1993, NOVA “represents more than 500 attorneys and agents assisting tens of thousands of our nation’s military veterans, their widows, and their families seeking to obtain their earned benefits from VA.” NOVA had participated along with other “stakeholders” in activities related to the “VA’s appeals reform proposal,” but “[b]ecause NOVA expressed disagreement with some of the proposal’s features, VA repeatedly excluded NOVA from continuing discussions….”

NOVA’s statement to the Committee covered several areas of concern with the bill, including:

  • Effective date protection — NOVA is concerned that the draft bill “removes many procedural and due process protections for veterans.” To offset this problem, the VA proposed “effective date protection” for claims in early stages of appeal. NOVA wants to see that protection extended to final U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) decisions.
  • “New and relevant” evidence standard — The requirement that the evidence necessary to reopen a claim be “new and relevant” is more stringent than the existing standard, that the evidence be “new and material.” NOVA would prefer that the process require only that the evidence be new, so as to “eliminate the need to make a threshold determination, which in the current system results in remands and additional delay.”
  • Submission of evidence on appeal — NOVA believes that requiring that evidence be submitted at the time of filing a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) places an unfair burden on veterans, who are generally not represented by counsel at that point.
  • Duty to assist — The bill relieves the Board of Veterans Appeals of the duty to assist after the agency of original jurisdiction renders a decision. NOVA wants the bill to clearly state that the restriction on the duty to assist applies only to evidence submitted after the agency’s decision.
  • Ability to change lanes — The way the law treats time periods effectively makes it impossible for a veteran to change lanes and preserve his rights. NOVA would like the bill to make clear that a claimant’s time period is tolled while he is in one lane, “so that if he chooses to withdraw from a lane after the expiration of the original one-year period and seek relief in a different lane, his original effective date is preserved.”
  • Notice of Disagreement — The BVA can dismiss a veteran’s appeal if the NOD is not specific enough. NOVA would like the bill to require the BVA to issue notice and an opportunity to cure such a defect before the BVA can issue a dismissal.

At Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban, two of our veterans attorneys, David Russotto and Ryan Spencer, are members of NOVA. They’ve been watching the development of the law very closely. We hope the Senate Committee takes NOVA’s recommendations seriously so that S.B. 1024 can be improved before the Senate votes.

If you or a veteran you love needs assistance appealing your Veterans Disability Benefits Claim, contact Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban online or give us a call at 866-866-VETS.

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