WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, cosponsored bipartisan legislation to help low-income veterans obtain the medical assistance that they need in order to more quickly receive their VA disability benefits. The bipartisan Veterans Pro Bono Corps Act, which was introduced by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), would create a five-year pilot program authorizing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to award grants to medical residency and fellowship programs to provide independent medical examinations and opinions at no cost to eligible low-income veterans to substantiate their claim for VA disability compensation.
“Too many veterans are unable to access the medical evaluations that they need in order to swiftly receive the disability benefits that they have earned through their service,” Senator Hassan said. “This bipartisan bill will expand the number of medical examiners who are available for veterans, and it will also ensure that these examinations are completed free of charge for low-income veterans. I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help get veterans the support that they deserve.”
When a veteran files a VA disability claim, they are usually scheduled for a VA Compensation and Pension (C&P) examination and/or medical opinion to substantiate the claim. There is currently a large inventory of pending VA C&P examination requests, which has resulted in claim processing delays and contributed to the current VA disability claim backlog. Moreover, the Government Accountability Office has documented quality-control, timeliness, and oversight problems with VA disability examinations outsourced to private contractors, which currently comprise the vast majority of VA disability examinations.
Given these issues, some veterans submit medical examination reports or opinions prepared by treating clinicians or independent medical examiners to support their claims. However, many veterans cannot afford to obtain independent medical evaluations, and outside clinicians are often unfamiliar with the relevant legal criteria. This legislation will remove monetary barriers for low-income veterans to obtain high-quality, independent medical evaluations to supplement their VA disability claims to receive compensation.
This bipartisan bill is part of Senator Hassan’s ongoing efforts to strengthen support for veterans. President Biden recently signed into law a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Senator Hassan to automatically provide cost-of-living increases to Veterans Affairs benefits for certain veterans with disabilities and dependent survivors. Earlier this year, Senator Hassan urged the National Personnel Records Center, which maintains the personnel, health, and medical records of millions of veterans, to immediately use the $50 million included in the December COVID-19 relief and government funding package to address its backlog of veterans’ record requests, which are often needed for veterans to receive their VA benefits.