WASHINGTON — House lawmakers finalized a bill Friday to streamline the appeals process for veterans seeking benefits and sent the legislation to the president.
The Senate passed the legislation last week, along with others that fixed a funding shortfall for veteran medical care from outside the Veterans Administration system and a bill that expands the GI bill.
Although the House had voted unanimously earlier to approve the legislation streamlining the appeals process, a pro forma session was gaveled in for just minutes Friday and a voice vote by a few lawmakers approved minor changes that allowed the bill to move to the White House.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., first proposed changes to the VA system four years ago to address the wait time for veterans filing appeals.
There is a backlog nationally of more than 460,000 appeals.
Titus said the changes to the system, approved with bipartisan support in the House and Senate, will “ensure that veterans in Southern Nevada and throughout the country receive the benefits they so bravely earned in a timely fashion.”
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said the bill will result in more options for Nevada veterans and allow them to “receive proper and timely compensation for their war injuries.”
Currently, veteran wait times on appeals can take up to five years, and the backlog was projected to grow substantially without the changes.
There are currently more than 225,000 veterans living in Nevada, of which 21,000 are women and nearly half, or 120,000 veterans, are under age 65, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The House and Senate also have sent to Trump bipartisan legislation that provides emergency funding to pay for claims by veterans who get medical care outside the VA system.
In addition, a bill that expands the GI bill was also sent to Trump after it was passed by Congress.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Heller were co-sponsors of the expanded GI bill, which eliminates a 15-year restriction on use of education benefits.
Heller added several amendments to the bill in the Veterans Affairs’ Committee to include expanded coverage for reservists and guardsmen, create a pilot program for computer programming, and specifically address benefits lost by the closure of ITT Technical Institute and other for-profit schools.
ITT Tech closed Nevada campuses in North Las Vegas and Henderson in 2016.
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About the bill
The measure passed Friday would overhaul the appeals process, allowing veterans to file “express” appeals if they waive their right to a hearing or the ability to submit new evidence. Lawmakers hope the legislation ultimately will reduce average wait times to less than a year.
The Veterans Administration provides $63.7 billion in disability compensation payments each year to about 4.1 million veterans with disabling conditions incurred during their military service.
— The Associated Press