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Veterans seeking to reverse decisions related to accessing Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and services could soon have a new way to appear before the appeals board. 

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed legislation by voice vote that would allow veterans to attend appeals hearings remotely using their personal computers or another location "via a secure internet platform established and maintained by the (VA secretary) that protects sensitive personal information from a data breach," according to the text of the bill. 

The bill would change how veterans could appeal decisions regarding their benefits and other services available to them. Under the existing procedure, veterans must appear before the Board of Veterans' Appeals either in person or by teleconference at a VA regional benefit office. 

U.S. Rep. John Katko, an original cosponsor of the legislation, explained that central New York veterans must travel to Albany or Buffalo to attend a tele-hearing. 

"This adds a time-consuming commute to an already stressful process for veterans and their families," Katko, R-Camillus, said in a statement. "By modernizing the process and allowing remote access to hearings before the board, this legislation will reduce the burden for veterans and their families and allow them to participate in the appeals process from their own homes." 

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The bill, which cleared the House Veterans' Affairs Committee in late October, is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham. Cunningham, a Democrat, introduced the bill to help veterans in his district and other areas of the country that must travel long distances to attend in-person or tele-hearings with the Board of Veterans' Appeals. 

Cunningham believes his bill is a "common-sense solution" to the problem. 

"Veterans, who have already sacrified so much for our country should not be forced to jump through hoops to appeal their claims," he said. 

The legislation is supported by leading veterans' groups, including Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Wounded Warrior Project. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.