Legislation would implement recommendations from the Office of the Inspector General

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) introduced legislation to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims processing training. By improving the training of VA personnel who are responsible for processing disability claims, this bill would help ensure benefits are being correctly determined so our veterans experiencing PTSD have access to the health care, treatment, and compensation to which they are entitled.

The VA Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Processing Claims Improvement Act would require implementation of recommendations made in a December 2020 report from the Office of the Inspector General, which estimated more than 15 percent of PTSD disability claims were inaccurately processed by VA personnel completed in FY2019.

“Our veterans have sacrificed much for our country, and we need to repay this service by providing quality benefits that meet their unique needs,” said Klobuchar. “The VA estimates that about 11 to 20 out of every 100 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with potential symptoms of PTSD, making it all the more crucial that we process PTSD claims correctly and efficiently. This legislation will act on important recommendations made by the Office of the Inspector General to ensure all veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned.”

“An estimated 16 percent of veterans’ PTSD claims were incorrectly processed by the Veterans Benefits Administration in fiscal year 2019,” said Rounds. “This kind of error rate is unacceptable. The quality of life of our veterans is seriously impacted when these claims are improperly processed. Our bill will establish and require a national training program for VBA claims processors so that our veterans receive quality, uniform care and costly processing errors are eliminated.”

The VA Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Processing Claims Improvement Act would:

  • Require the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) Compensation Service to:
    • Update its ongoing national training program for claims processors who review PTSD disability benefit claims. This would include training on stressor development and verification
    • Standardize station-selected training at regional offices
    • Annually update the PTSD VBA’s procedural guidance to provide claims processors with better resources regarding best practices, including specific guidance regarding development of claims involving entitlement to service connection for posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Establish a formal process to annually:
    • Analyze training needs based on identified processing error trends
    • Conduct studies on military PTSD stressors and decision-making claims for claims processors to help guide the national training program

Klobuchar has been a leader in advocating for veterans’ health care and benefits. Earlier this month, she and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced legislation to require the VA to provide health care personnel with improved education and training to identify, treat, and assess the impact of illnesses related to exposure to burn pits and other toxic substances. In March, alongside Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Klobuchar reintroduced the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act, bipartisan legislation that would reform and improve how veterans exposed to toxic substances receive health care and benefits from the VA.

In January 2021, a provision based on the bipartisan Pandemic Care for Burn Pits Exposure Act led by Klobuchar and Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The provision improves the care that veterans who were previously exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances receive during the coronavirus pandemic. By requiring medical professionals to ask whether veterans who test positive for a virus designated by the federal government as a pandemic if they were previously exposed to burn pits, this provision will help ensure that they receive proper care and attention to their medical needs.

In December 2019, Klobuchar’s bipartisan Burn Pits Accountability Act with Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Burn Pits Accountability Act requires members of the Armed Forces to be evaluated for exposure to toxic airborne chemicals during routine health exams and directs the Secretary of Defense to record and share whether servicemembers were based or stationed near an open burn pit, including any information recorded as part of the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, the Periodic Health Assessment (PHAs), Separation History and Physical Examination (SHPEs), and Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHAs). Members will also be enrolled in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, unless they choose to opt out, if they were exposed to toxic airborne chemicals or stationed near an open burn pit. 

In September 2018, provisions based on the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act led by Klobuchar and Senator Tillis was signed into law as part of the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, and created the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence within the VA focused on researching the health effects associated with burn pits and treating veterans who become sick after exposure.

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