ICYMI: Senator Hassan Joins in Introducing Two Bills to Support Veterans
WASHINGTON – Last week, Senator Hassan continued her efforts to help ensure that all of New Hampshire’s brave veterans and their families have the resources that they need and deserve by joining in introducing two bills: one measure to support women veterans and another measure to streamline the Department of Veterans Affairs’ appeals process.
Senator Hassan also participated in an event celebrating the tireless efforts of Harbor Homes, community leaders, and veterans groups to effectively end veteran homelessness in the greater Nashua area.
Senator Maggie Hassan joined Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and others in introducing the Deborah Sampson Act to assist and empower women veterans. In addition, Senator Hassan joined Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and others in introducing the Veterans Affairs Appeals Modernization Act to help streamline the VA appeals process and facilitate the process for veterans to receive their benefits.
See below for highlights of coverage
During America’s Revolutionary War, a woman named Deborah Sampson disguised herself as a man in order to serve in the Continental Army. She served 17 months before being wounded and honorably discharged. Today she has become a symbol of the bravery women have shown in service to our country, and she’s now the namesake of the Deborah Sampson Act, which is legislation designed to addresses gender disparities at VA hospitals. New Hampshire democratic Senator Maggie Hassan co-introduced the legislation. She spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello.
…Tell us more about what it does for women and children born at VA hospitals.
For women veterans in general, it expands peer-to-peer assistance. It improves the quality of maternity and newborn care at veterans’ hospitals. So again, for women and children, especially newborns, it ensures they can get their care through the veterans’ system. It also eliminates barriers, the lack of privacy, for instance.
It also provides legal and support services and improves data tracking and reporting. We’ve seen more and more women step up and defend their country and fight for our freedoms. Increasingly women are in combat roles and even some of the roles that have been in the past designated as not combat roles, in fact have involved women on the front lines being at great risk.
Just as we owe all our veterans an incredible debt of gratitude, we also want to make sure that all of our veterans have access to the kind of treatment that they need and deserve and that’s what this bill is aimed at doing.
…One of things I’ve heard about loudly and clearly from veterans throughout New Hampshire is their concern about the appeals process right now. Since taking office I have visited the Manchester VA, I’ve gone up to White River Junction, I’ve visited with the State Veterans Advisory Council, and representatives of the VFW and the American Legion came to New Hampshire and we had a meeting, and this was always on the top of their list, and so the bill is really intended to make sure that we are handling appeals in a simpler way, a more transparent way, and one in which veterans can understand what their options are if they don’t have an outcome that they like or that was expected. I’m hopeful we’ll get further with this legislation in this Congress than it got the last time.
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan this week were among 17 senators who introduced legislation to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs appeals process.
Shaheen and Hassan said the system is broken and has not been updated since 1933. They said that nationally, 450,000 appeals related to disability claims are pending. But due to inefficiencies in the current system, “most veterans wait years for a decision on their appeals,” according to a joint statement from the New Hampshire senators’ offices.
…Hassan called the bill "an important step in supporting our veterans, service members and their families, who have sacrificed bravely in defense of our freedoms.”
“I have heard from veterans in New Hampshire who are frustrated by the current VA appeals process, which is complex and inefficient. By streamlining the process for appeals and giving veterans clear options for appeal after receiving an initial decision, the VA Appeals Modernization Act will help ensure that our veterans can access the services that they need and deserve.”
According to the GAO, currently, veterans who are dissatisfied with disability claims decisions by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) can first appeal to the VBA, and then to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, a separate agency within the VA.
“In fiscal year 2015, more than 427,000 appeals were pending and veterans waited over three years on average for decisions,” the GAO report said. “Of this total, about 81,000 were pending at the Board (of Veterans’ Appeals) and the average cumulative time veterans waited for a decision by the Board in 2015 was almost five years.
…Currently, there are many different types of disability cases on appeal, but all must go through the same procedural process, regardless of whether they are complex or relatively straightforward, officials in the Senate offices said. The modernization bill divides the process into three “lanes,” allowing someone with a relatively simple claim to be on a faster track.
A “local higher level review” track would provide an opportunity for a “quick resolution of the claim by a higher-level adjudicator at the VA Regional Office.
“This lane would be a good option for veterans who are confident they have all the evidence necessary to win their claim,” Shaheen and Hassan said.
Another lane would allow veterans to submit new evidence to support their claims at any point in the appeals process without causing new rounds of reviews.
A third lane would streamline the Board of Veterans’ Appeals review process, eliminating intermediate steps currently required by statute.
Paul Lloyd, state adjutant of the New Hampshire Veterans of Foreign Wars, called the bill, “an important step forward for reforming the VA and making sure that veterans can receive the services that we need. I have seen my fellow veterans struggle with the complex and confusing nature of the existing VA appeals process. I am grateful to Sens. Hassan and Shaheen for their leadership on this issue, and I hope that the Senate will pass this legislation quickly.”
Courtney Loboa spent years drifting in and out of homeless shelters before and after he got out of the Navy.
Loboa grew up in a dysfunctional family, and never put down roots except for the six years he lived in Manchester as a child. When he graduated from high school, Loboa spent time living in shelters and under bridges.
He gained some stability when he joined the Navy, serving in a submarine. After his service, Loboa got married and had a son, but his mental health started to deteriorate and he started drifting again after a divorce.
Years of homelessness followed, but along the way he started getting help from staff at Harbor Homes. Loboa is now in a home, and is self-sufficient.
…The city, along with the other communities in Greater Nashua, have been certified by three federal agencies to have effectively ended homelessness among veterans. Working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other local agencies, these communities started an outreach effort to get every veteran experiencing homelessness into housing.
The communities and organizations involved in the effort gathered Friday at Harbor Homes on High Street to celebrate the certification.
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan said helping veterans isn’t a choice.
“As they protect us and make our freedoms possible, it is our responsibility to make sure veterans have all the support they need and deserve,” Hassan said.
Peter Kelleher, president of the Partnership for Successful Living, which operates Harbor Homes and other supportive services, said the work isn’t done yet. Though Nashua doesn’t have any homeless veterans, there are still homeless vets throughout the state who need help.
“There’s so much more still left to do,” Kelleher said.
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