Bush seeks to improve claims processing for veterans

klunney@govexec.com

Veterans would get more assistance in processing their benefits claims under a plan to restore a program run by the Veterans Affairs Department announced by Texas governor and GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush Monday.

The "Duty to Assist" program, already in place at the Veterans Affairs Department (VA), requires the agency to assist veterans in gathering service records, medical records, and other documents necessary to file a complete benefits claim. Bush announced his plan to restore the program while speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) national convention Monday.

Bush said he wants to reinstate the VA's duty to assist veterans by informing veterans of the records needed to process their claims, letting veterans know if the agency cannot find pertinent information, and giving the veteran the opportunity to submit personal evidence for information the VA cannot obtain.

The House passed legislation similar to Bush's proposal in July. The Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000 (H.R. 4864), introduced by Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., seeks to reaffirm the agency's duty to assist claimants in obtaining their benefits.

The bill directs VA to inform veterans of the information necessary to complete their claims, inform claimants when important medical or military service information is missing, provide medical examinations for disabled veterans who cannot afford medical care, and provide any other appropriate and necessary assistance to veterans.

The Senate's version of the bill, S. 1810, was introduced in October 1999 by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and is currently in committee.

A spokesman for VA said the legislation seeks to formalize and reaffirm the current process. "VA has always assisted veterans in processing their claims," he said.

During his address to the VFW, Bush also discussed his plan to put $310 million into a federal program responsible for repairing and building public schools on or near military bases. The "Impact Aid" Construction Program is administered by the Education Department.

"This funding means that thousands of students who are dependents of military personnel and attend public schools located near or on military facilities around the country will learn in better school environments," said Bush.

Vice President Al Gore has criticized Bush for having no overall comprehensive education plan.

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