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Band of brothers: New bill lets veterans join forces when fighting VA over benefits claims

Sloan Gibson, the acting secretary of Veterans Affairs, speaks to the media at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, Thursday, July 10, 2014, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/The Augusta Chronicle, Todd Bennett) AP Photo/The Augusta Chronicle, Todd Bennett

Reps. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) and David Jolly (R-Fla.) have proposed legislation that would let the nation's veterans band together to fight decisions by the Department of Veterans Affairs to deny them benefits.

Under current law, veterans who want to appeal VA decisions on benefits must go to the Court of Appeals for Veterans' Claims. But Murphy and Jolly say that specialized court doesn't allow class action claims, which means veterans must fight their battles alone in a court that has a significant backlog.

Sloan Gibson is the acting secretary of Veterans Affairs. A new bipartisan bill would make it easier for veterans to challenge VA decisions on benefits in court. (AP Photo/The Augusta Chronicle, Todd Bennett)

"This court is terribly overburdened, with an appeal taking around a year on average, and that is on top of the nearly four years that a veteran already waited by then," Murphy said when discussing his bill earlier this year. "That is indefensible."

Murphy said allowing class action lawsuits would help speed up the process by letting the court condense several similar cases into a single case. Murphy said Congress needs to do as much as it can to help veterans receive the benefits they've earned, especially in light of the VA healthcare scandal.

The bill would also call for a salary bump for judges on the Court of Appeals for Veterans' Claims. Murphy and Jolly say that would help ensure a fully accountable system for the nation's veterans.

"Too often we hear that our nation's heroes, after fighting for our country, come home only to have to fight to get the care, support, and respect they so deserve," he said. "We must make sure that the brave men and women who have risked everything for our country are never forgotten or ignored, that we fight for them as they have fought for us."

The VA scandal prompted both the House and Senate to pass legislation reforming the VA, both of which included language making it easier to fire VA officials who directed or covered up the scandal.

Murphy and Jolly introduced their bill late last week, as members of the House and Senate continued to negotiate a common bill on VA reform that they could both pass.

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