Lessons the Veterans Benefits System Must Learn on Gathering Expert Witness Evidence
Federal Circuit Bar Journal, Vol. 18, No. 3, p. 405, 2009
24 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2009
Date Written: 2009
An adjudication system that lacks adequate evidence-gathering tools is destined to be both inefficient and rancorous. Accordingly, the time has come to examine how Congress can overhaul the evidence-gathering procedures for veterans benefits claims in order to conform with the modern process of claims adjudication. Fundamentally, the system has transformed from panels with legal and medical professionals deciding claims for which a veteran's evidence was insufficient as a matter of law, into groups of individual lay adjudicators weighing private and VA medical evidence on equal terms. The current evidence gathering procedures are insufficient to clarify the complex questions that arise in veterans benefits cases, resulting in needless delay while claims languish waiting for information that a proper system would solicit at the beginning. VA can use lessons from the adversarial arena to reshape the Secretary's duties to notify and assist claimants so that adequate evidence is obtained as quickly and efficiently as possible. Once Congress adopts these changes, claims will be decided far faster, tremendous resources will be freed at VA that are currently devoted to inefficient procedures, and — most importantly — veterans will believe that their claims are being decided fairly.
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