Press "Enter" to skip to content

Opinion: Protect the Well-Being of Missouri’s Veterans

Ensuring the well-being of our veterans is one of the most sacred honors with which our lawmakers are entrusted. These men and women have laid everything on the line for the safety of the Freedom and Liberty we and our nation enjoy – often at considerable personal cost. It’s not just a matter of policy but a moral imperative to support those who have served the United States with such honor and sacrifice.

Although legislative actions may have the best intentions at heart, it’s possible for them to inadvertently harm the very heroes they’re meant to uplift. This is currently the concern with Missouri House Bill 1490, which seeks to reform the veteran benefits process and procedures but may, in fact, place significant barriers between veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability benefits that are rightfully theirs.

Missouri’s veteran community, numbering more than 340,000, is already navigating significant challenges in accessing VA disability benefits. Statistics compiled by the VA suggest a troubling lag in the provision of this essential support to veterans living in the state, an issue that demands careful handling rather than restrictive measures that could exacerbate the problem.

As a disabled veteran who has gone through the process myself, I can attest to the fact that the VA benefits claims process is a labyrinth of bureaucratic hurdles. As a result, most may not have the wherewithal to navigate it themselves and may turn to veteran service organizations (VSOs) or VA-accredited attorneys for guidance; however, the capacity of these entities to assist is limited.

While VSOs are an important partner in this process, the fact remains that there are too few VSO representatives to meet the needs of Missouri’s entire veteran population. According to the VA website, there are only 134 VSO representatives available to assist the hundreds of thousands of veterans in Missouri with the benefits claims process. This is also just one of a number of services these organizations provide that compete for the limited time and attention of VSO staff that are stretched thin.

Attorneys that have been recognized by the VA as accredited agents and work on a fee-for-service model, on the other hand, typically only engage when a claim has been denied and an appeal has been filed. Not only does this introduce additional delays from the start, but the process is marred by backward financial incentives that see the VA pay a larger fee if the claim goes longer than 15 months. All of this could put more time between a veteran and the disability benefits they have earned and demonstrate the need for additional options.

With the VA backlog mounting—and now standing at more than 370,000 claims—private consulting agents have stepped up as vital allies to help navigate the claims process. These professionals, who leverage the resources of private business to get results, only receive compensation if they successfully secure an increased benefit for veterans.

This is a testament to their effectiveness, but regrettably, HB 1490 seeks to outlaw this model. Advocates of the bill may argue they are trying to protect veterans from potential financial exploitation; however, a more constructive approach exists.

Rather than imposing a blanket prohibition that cuts off critical support, Missouri legislators should work to identify and implement improvements within the existing system. The current VA accreditation guidance, for example, was written before the advent of private-sector consultants and lacks a mechanism for recognizing their contributions. Federal legislation under consideration, such as the Preserving Lawful Utilization of Services (PLUS) for Veterans Act, proposes to remedy this by reforming accreditation processes to include private consultants and instituting stiff penalties on those who may not act in the best interests of our veterans. Something similar should be considered as a substitute at the state level.

Our veterans deserve a VA disability claims system that helps them achieve the best possible outcomes. As Missouri’s legislative body deliberates on HB 1490, it’s crucial for the voices of concern to be heard and considered. The well-being of our veterans hangs in the balance, and it’s our collective responsibility to safeguard their access to the support and recognition they’ve so bravely earned.