Jon Tester

03/31/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 03/31/2020 15:31

As Effects of COVID-19 Grow, Tester & Moran Press VA to Waive Deadlines for Veterans Applying for Benefits

To ensure veterans aren't forced to choose between their health and their benefits, Senate Veterans' Affairs Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are leading the push to waive claim deadlines during the COVID-19 crisis. To protect veterans- one of the most vulnerable populations to the virus-the Senators are calling on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to use its regulatory authority to grant waivers or extensions for veterans applying for benefits during the national emergency.

As a result of recent self-isolation instructions and general shelter-in-place orders across the country, many veterans cannot file the necessary paperwork for their claims and appeals in a manner that abides by the instructions provided in their states and local communities without jeopardizing their safety. To alleviate the pressure of filing paperwork and prevent potential loss-of-benefits during the pandemic, Tester and Moran are requesting that VA waive or extend the deadlines associated with veterans' claims.

'Veterans may feel paralyzed with anxiety and fear over this pandemic and they should not be penalized for missing deadlines when their focus should be on maintaining their own health,' wrote Senators Tester and Moran to Secretary Wilkie. 'Veterans also may not have access to their representatives to help guide them through the complicated claims and appeals process during this national emergency.'

They continued, 'Therefore, we encourage VA to institute a waiver for all veterans who are facing filing deadlines and consider establishing a retroactive date for all new claim submissions. We would like to see the VA use its broad regulatory authority to toll all veteran-facing deadlines for 180 days. Furthermore, we ask VA to consider all new filings between April 1, 2020 and the end of the Presidential emergency declaration, to be treated as if they were filed on March 31, 2020 so that veterans who are unable to file claims or Supplemental Claims during the early days of this crisis benefit from an earlier effective date.'

Many veterans rely on Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), veteran legal clinics, and attorney's offices to help navigate them through the complicated claims and appeals process to obtain their earned benefits from VA. However, due to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, veterans are unable to access this assistance and are left to navigate the overwhelming options on their own. Granting waivers or extensions to veterans during the pandemic would prevent a number of veteran appeals in the future.

Read the full letter HERE.