Congress Passes H.R. 6416 and Reinstates Nine Judges to CAVC

As the 114th Congress drew to a close, the Senate passed H.R. 6416, the “Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefit Improvement Act of 2016,” which includes language to temporarily reinstate nine judges to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).  Specifically, 38 U.S.C. § 7253(i)(2) will be amended to read: “Effective as of January 1, 2021, an appointment may not be made to the Court if the appointment would result in there being more judges of the Court than the authorized number of judges of the Court specified in subsection (a).”  The specified number under subsection (a) is nine.

In addition, CAVC is required to submit a report to Congress by June 30, 2020 assessing appeals and making a recommendation about the number of judges needed in the future.  This bill also amends the life insurance and annuity provisions for judges, as well as the process for selection of the chief judge on or after January 1, 2020.

H.R. 6416 contains other sections addressing disability compensation, burial benefits, educational assistance and vocational rehabilitation, small business and employment matters, health care, and homelessness.  Some provisions of interest include the following:

  • Section 101. This section allows for the payment of survivors’ benefits under chapters 13 and 15, and sections 2302, 2307, and 5121, of title 38 to “a survivor of a veteran who has not filed a formal claim if the Secretary determines that the record contains sufficient evidence to establish the entitlement of the survivor to such benefits.”
  • Section 102. This section provides more latitude for the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to determine the format, live v. video, to schedule a hearing for the earliest possible date.  The veteran still has the right to request a different format.
  • Section 110. This section requires VA to obtain an independent review of the process by which it assesses TBI claims.
  • Section 113. This section requires VA to provide Congress with specific information regarding MST claims.

Absent from H.R. 6416 were any appeals reform measures, to include VA’s appeals modernization plan or the Fully Developed Appeals pilot program previously considered.  You can review the entire bill HERE.