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Biden’s VA Budget Request Will Limit Veteran Claim Options

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File

First, the good news. President Joe Biden’s Veterans Administration (VA) budget request for Fiscal Year 2022 is $270 billion--a 10% increase over 2021 levels. Now, the bad news.


Picking up where a failed Senate bill in 2019 left off, the budget’s language would amend Title 38 of the U.S. Code, a.k.a. Veterans’ Benefits, to limit veteran options on who may legally file disability and benefits claims on their behalf.  It would hurt millions of veterans.

Though well-intentioned, the last Congress introduced legislation which would criminalize providing such services without being accredited by the VA, thereby sharply reducing veteran claim options.

But now the Biden administration has jammed it in the budget request.

Under the current system which faces a dramatic change, veterans have four options for filing claims:

The first is to file themselves. Though since the maze of paperwork required can be daunting, it’s a non-starter for most. As a Vietnam-era veteran, I personally gave up trying to seek benefits over lack of access to all my medical records from the 1960s. As a former Assistant Administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration, the VA system seems infinitely more complicated.

Second, veterans can use VA-accredited agents, usually attorneys, who get paid by the VA regardless of whether it pays out the benefits or not.  It’s good for the agents racking up legal fees, but not necessarily for veterans who may wait years to resolve claims.

Third are private consultants, usually veterans who have successfully navigated the system themselves, working on a contingency basis. They only get paid if the veterans do, including compensation for any increases in benefits.


Fourth are veteran service organizations (VSOs) which are mostly staffed by volunteers graciously performing a service to help those who served in the armed forces.  Even while that includes over 10,000 volunteers, it’s not enough to keep up with roughly a quarter of nearly 20 million veterans with a VA disability rating, let alone those seeking one now.

While it’s understandable that Washington policy makers would want to eliminate “bad actors” from the VA disability claims process, it’s also easy to see creating even bigger problems in the process. It is Washington.

For example, can anyone imagine the government forbidding people to prepare tax returns other than the individual taxpayer, the IRS or Treasury Department-accredited agents? It would wreak havoc on small business owners who typically rely on individual or fellow small business accountants. This proposed change to veterans’ benefits is a similar concept.

The VA claims process is already congested enough without limiting choice.  During the coronavirus pandemic, backlogged cases reportedly tripled to nearly 200,000, meaning no action over a four-month period. And that’s out of over half-a-million active claims already pending.

Cutting back on the ways which veterans can seek help would compound the problem.

As most who follow veterans’ issues already know, suicides are more likely for them compared to those who never served. Among men, the rate is reportedly 1.5 times higher, and 2.2 times greater for women. We ought to be making their lives easier, not harder.


The humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan only to see the Taliban re-emerge as rulers after 20 years of blood and sacrifice is a heavy blow against veterans, many of them now left questioning why they risked life and limb.

Iraq isn’t going so well either. It’s now a puppet of Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.

Despite these end results, roughly 52,000 U.S. service members who were wounded in action in Afghanistan and Iraq now need a lifetime of care. Toxic burn pits in both places put countless more at risk for long term health problems. Many of my peers who served during the Vietnam War were exposed to cancer-causing toxins like Agent Orange. Over time, millions more were also injured from training accidents and grueling lives on the march and in the brush.

Not that there’s ever a good time to restrict options of veterans seeking claims they’re entitled to from our government, but now ranks up there with among the worst.  Congress shouldn’t allow a bad bill in the Senate sneak in the back door via a proposed VA budget. Those who sacrificed so much already deserve better.

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