Portman and Sinema introduce bipartisan bill to help low-income veterans pursue VA disability claims
22 October 2021
WASHINGTON DC – Yesterday, US Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) presented the Veterans Pro Bono Corps Act, bipartisan legislation that will establish a five-year pilot program authorizing the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide residency and fellowship program grants in medicine to provide independent programs, pro bono medical examinations and opinions to help eligible low-income veterans justify their VA compensation claims.
“I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation to provide low income veterans with another option to obtain high quality medical evidence to support their VA disability claims,” said Portman. “This bill will expand access to independent medical assessments for veterans in rural and underserved areas so they can get the VA disability benefits they’ve earned.”
“Our pilot program is accelerating VA disability benefits by increasing the availability of forensic pathologists for Arizona veterans in need,” said Sinema, a member of the Senate Veterans Committee.
When a veteran files a VA disability compensation claim, they are usually scheduled for a VA Compensation and Pension (C&P) review and / or medical opinion to support the claim. There is currently a large inventory of pending VA C&P exam applications, which has caused delays in processing applications and contributed to the current backlog of VA disability applications. Additionally, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has documented issues with the quality control, timeliness and oversight of VA disability reviews outsourced to private contractors, which currently make up the vast majority of disability reviews. GO.
In light of these issues, some veterans submit medical examination reports or opinions prepared by treating clinicians or independent forensic pathologists to substantiate their claims. However, most veterans cannot afford independent medical assessments, and outside clinicians are often unaware of the relevant legal criteria. This legislation will remove monetary barriers allowing low-income veterans to obtain high-quality independent medical evaluations to supplement their claims for VA benefits.
“We support efforts to increase the ability of veterans to seek medical advice to support their VA disability claims,” said Heather Ansley, associate executive director of government relations, Paralyzed Veterans of America. “The Pilot Program led by the Veterans Pro Bono Corps Act of 2021 has the potential to support our veterans throughout the claims process. “
“AMVETS supports the passage of the Veterans Pro Bono Corps Act of 2021, ” said Joseph R. Chenelly, Executive Director, AMVETS. “As an organization that represents more than 75,000 Veterans and Veterans’ families, we know the challenges veterans face when seeking medical examinations that lead to their ultimate disability rating. We know that the financial costs of paying private medical examiners to provide independent disability assessments can be a burden that most veterans do not want to shoulder. The Veterans Pro Bono Corps Act would provide veterans with another option when requesting a medical exam. “
“Vietnam Veterans of America fully supports the Pro Bono Veterans Corps Act. This bill, when enacted, will go a long way in reducing the current backlog of VA claims by providing veterans with external medical examinations or opinions to support their claims – at no cost to the veteran. “, said Felicia Mullaney, director of veterans benefits, Vietnam Veterans of America.
This legislation is also approved by the American Legion.
More precisely, the Veterans Pro Bono Corps Act:
- Establishes a 5-year pilot program authorizing VA to provide grants to residency programs and medical scholarships to provide pro bono, independent medical examinations and medical opinions to help low-income veterans justify claims for VA disability benefits.
- Allows VA to establish a competitive process to select beneficiaries and allows VA to give preference to beneficiaries in rural or underserved areas.
- Requires recipients to screen veterans for income eligibility criteria
- Requires participants to complete training that is substantially the same or equivalent to the training required for VA and VA contracted examiners.
- Requires recipients to provide VA with accounting for the use and allocation of grant funds.
- Requires the VA to provide the Senate and House Veterans Affairs committees with annual reports containing the data necessary to assess the effectiveness of the program.