President Trump on Wednesday signed into law a measure meant to accelerate the appeals process for disability claims at the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), easing for veterans a process criticized as too cumbersome.
The bill is aimed at helping veterans challenge rejected bids for benefits and to mitigate a backlog of appeals.
Veterans that have become sick or injured while serving are entitled to disability payments from the VA, which determines how much to compensate them through a process that looks at medical records and other documentation. But not all veterans are happy with the amount they’ve been allocated and can appeal the decision.
The appeals process at the VA is lengthy, however, with a five-year average wait for a decision. The White House said this week that there are 470,000 appeals cases currently pending in the VA system.
Lawmakers said they want the wait time to be reduced to less than a year.
The new law will give veterans options on how to appeal benefits decisions they think are unfair and do not compensate them enough.
“This is a big one,” Trump said, pointing to the bill before signing it to a roar of applause Wednesday. VA Secretary David Shulkin stood behind him along with leadership from the nation’s largest veterans group.
Trump signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act after addressing veterans at the American Legion’s national convention in Reno, Nev.
“One year ago at this gathering … I promised you I would make it my priority to fix the broken VA and deliver our veterans the care they so richly deserve,” Trump told the audience.
Trump spoke to American Legion while on the campaign trail last year.
Prior to signing the bill, Trump boasted of several recent VA reforms, including a promised White House veterans hotline and new legislation meant easily oust ineffective VA employees.
“If somebody who works at the VA is bad to the people of the VA … we look at them and we say, ‘you’re fired’ that’s it,” Trump said. “They don’t do a good job, they’re out.”