STARS AND STRIPES: Plus For Veterans Act Is An Overdue Step Forward For Veterans' Benefits by Roger Champ

June 8, 2023

When we look back on our nation's history, our gaze often falls upon the conflicts we've weathered. These periods of struggle and triumph are personified by the brave men and women who wore the uniform, who bore the flag, and who served our country with a courage that is both humbling and inspiring. To our veterans, we owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude. It is a debt that extends far beyond the battles fought on foreign soil. It is a commitment to uphold the very values they risked their lives to protect, both abroad and here on our own shores.

But as we stand united in our gratitude for their service, we must also confront a difficult truth. For many of our veterans, the journey home is marred by a new battle, one they must wage against a system that has too often failed them.

Despite its noble intent and the tireless efforts of its staff, the Department of Veterans Affairs system is ailing. My fellow veterans and I have dealt with understaffing and long waits. It groans under the weight of a six-figure backlog of veteran benefit claims, leaving veterans stranded in a sea of bureaucracy, waiting far too long for the benefits they need and have earned. I regularly meet with a small group of veterans at a local church to give advice on how to navigate the system, and I think the public would be shocked by how hard it can be at times.

This is not a situation that can be remedied by a simple band-aid fix. It is a deep-seated issue that calls for comprehensive, bipartisan reform. Luckily, some in Congress have decided to take action. The bipartisan legislation titled the Preserving Lawful Utilization of Services for Veterans (PLUS) for Veterans Act of 2023 (H.R. 1822) was just recently introduced and is a step in the right direction.

Led by Rep. Jack Bergman, of Michigan, on the Republican side and Rep. J. Luis “Lou” Correa, of California, on the Democratic side, the PLUS for Veterans Act takes aim at the VA backlog by fundamentally streamlining the claims review process. It proposes a thorough overhaul of the current system, enhancing the preparation, presentation and pursuit of VA benefit claims.

One such strategy is the establishment of a rigorous accreditation process for veteran representatives. These are private consultants that assist veterans filing appeals of their benefit claims. Accreditation reform not only raises the bar for service quality but also brings much-needed professionalism and accountability to the process. In turn, this fosters an expedited experience and alternative routes for veterans to receive and increase their VA benefits, reducing the bureaucratic gridlock that too often slows their journey to achieve and receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

The proposed legislation also casts a critical eye on the darker corners of the VA benefits system, where unscrupulous actors lurk, ready to exploit the vulnerabilities of those they purport to help. To protect veterans from such predatory practices, the bill imposes strict limits on the fees that can be charged for assistance with claims and sets stiff penalties for unauthorized fees.

This is a critical balance to strike. In the complexity of the VA system, private organizations have emerged as vital allies for veterans, helping them navigate the labyrinthine claims process. However, the actions of a few bad actors have led to misguided calls to ban these organizations entirely. We need middle ground to root out the grifters and get additional help for veterans.

As a Vietnam veteran and as someone who regularly helps veterans in my community, I am heartened by the bipartisan spirit that underpins the PLUS for Veterans Act. It is a testament to what we can achieve when we put the needs of our veterans above the political fray.

But let us not forget what this bill truly represents. It is not simply about cutting red tape or improving the efficiency of a government agency. It is about honoring the sacrifice of those who served and continue to serve our country. It is about ensuring that our veterans, who have given so much for our freedom and safety, are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Roger Champ, a Vietnam veteran and recipient of a Silver Star and Purple Heart, lives in Moorefield, W.Va.

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