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Veterans' disability system changes proposed

There have been criticisms that the number and complexity of medical examinations and costs in the veterans' disability system are excessive. To combat this, the federal government has proposed a series of reforms in the President's 2020 budget that would revise medical examinations for veterans benefits.

Administration officials referred to court rulings on the veteran disability finding that the Veterans' Administration medical standards exceed the legal evidence required to show eligibility. The VA estimated that that there were over 180,000 unnecessary medical appointments in 2016 and 210,000 in 2017, which were a small but significant part of its workload.

The proposed reforms are intended to create a more reasonable policy for determining when a VA examination is needed for a compensation claim. Many check-ups, subsequent examinations and appointments that repeat private-sector medical evaluations could be reduced.

The proposal also includes removing annual income from the eligibility calculation for disability compensation benefits. This is intended to increase the number of eligible beneficiaries and reduce the time and personnel involved in calculating benefits by allowing standardization and automation of payments.

Last year, Congress reviewed but did not act upon a similar proposal. The VA estimated at that time that the plan would reduce annual spending by $80 million, which would amount to $1.2 billion over the next decade. In this budget, it raised the annual savings to $250 million and almost $2.7 billion by fiscal year 2029.

A controversial cost-savings plan of rounding down veterans' cost-of-living payouts to the nearest dollar is also included in this plan. Veterans groups and some lawmakers have strongly opposed this proposal.

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