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Congressman Biggs sends letter to VA Secretary Shulkin

November 6, 2017
Press Release

GILBERT, ARIZONA – Last week, Congressman Andy Biggs sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, requesting answers to questions about veterans benefits.

Read the full text of the letter below:

November 3, 2017

The Honorable David J. Shulkin
Secretary
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20420

Dear Secretary Shulkin,

I am grateful for your steadfast efforts in bringing much-needed reformed to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). My office has noticed significant improvements with the current Congressional Relations Officer at the Phoenix Veterans Health Care System (PVHCS), which is of great assistance in our efforts to serve our veteran constituents. I remain committed to yours and President Trump’s mission to provide our veterans quality care and service.

Unfortunately, despite Congress and the Administration’s proactive steps to bring positive changes to the VA,  in Arizona we are still facing some of the same problems we faced throughout the last administration.  It is my hope that we can work together to change the status quo and ensure the highest level of care for our nation’s heroes.

The lack of clear criteria for approving benefits claims at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Regional Office (PVARO) remains burdensome for many of my constituents. Many have expressed difficulty in getting their claims processed and approved, and fail to understand the reasoning behind frequent roadblocks and denials.  To my understanding, the “Benefit of the Doubt Rule” (38 U.S. Code § 5107), ensures that the Secretary rule in favor of the veteran “when there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence regarding any issue material to the determination of a matter.”  However, interaction with constituents has left me wondering if the practical standard when reviewing evidence is the reverse.  I have heard from veterans around the country that they do not have as many issues in getting their benefits claims approved by their respective VAROs.  My office is working on a particular case where a veteran has a strong preponderance of evidence supporting his claim.  And yet, the PVARO is turning to a small piece of contradicting evidence to leverage their decision.  This example is one of many that reflects that growing frustration among Arizona’s veteran community.

Additionally, the PVHCS Congressional Relations Officer has informed me that there is no specific timeline for a VARO to address a remanded case from an appeals judge.  This can increase the possibility of years of bureaucratic burdens and backlog – meanwhile our veterans remain uncertain on the status of his or her benefits claims. 

With the above-stated in mind, I request that you respond to the following questions by no later than Friday, December 1, 2017:

  1. What percentage of closed cases are found in favor of the veteran at the PVARO?  How does PVARO’s percentage compare to VAROs across the country?
     
  2. What consideration is given to the “Benefit of the Doubt Rule” (38 U.S. Code § 5107)?
     
  3. Are there incentives (e.g. bonuses, promotions, etc.) for the VA’s claims handlers to close cases in a timely fashion? If so, is there any concern that an incentive to close cases more quickly will lead to more denials for expediency? Are any incentives measured on the basis of  ruling either in favor or against a veteran’s benefits claim?
     
  4. When an appeals judge remands a case back to a VARO, what is the timeline in which the regional office must address and resolve the remanded case?

Respectfully,

Andy Biggs
Member of Congress

Issues: