| Home > 106th Congressional Bills > H.R. 4864 (rh) To amend title 38, United States Code, to reaffirm and clarify the duty of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to assist claimants for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary, and for other purposes. [Reported in House] %%Filename:...
H.R. 4864 (rh) To amend title 38, United States Code, to reaffirm and clarify the duty of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to assist claimants for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary, and for other purposes. [Reported in House] %%Filename:...
106th CONGRESS 2d Session H. R. 4864 _______________________________________________________________________ IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES July 25, 2000 Received; read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs _______________________________________________________________________ AN ACT To amend title 38, United States Code, to reaffirm and clarify the duty of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to assist claimants for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary, and for other purposes. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE. This Act may be cited as the ``Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000''. SEC. 2. CLARIFICATION OF DEFINITION OF ``CLAIMANT'' FOR PURPOSES OF VETERANS LAWS. (a) In General.--Chapter 51 of title 38, United States Code, is amended by inserting before section 5101 the following new section: ``Sec. 5100. Definition of `claimant' ``For purposes of this chapter, the term `claimant' means any individual applying for, or submitting a claim for, any benefit under the laws administered by the Secretary.''. (b) Clerical Amendment.--The table of sections at the beginning of such chapter is amended by inserting before the item relating to section 5101 the following new item: ``5100. Definition of `claimant'.''. SEC. 3. ASSISTANCE TO CLAIMANTS. (a) Reaffirmation and Clarification of Duty To Assist.--Chapter 51 of title 38, United States Code, is amended by striking sections 5102 and 5103 and inserting the following: ``Sec. 5102. Applications: forms furnished upon request; notice to claimants of incomplete applications ``(a) Furnishing Forms.--Upon request made in person or in writing by any person claiming or applying for a benefit under the laws administered by the Secretary, the Secretary shall furnish such person, free of all expense, all such printed instructions and forms as may be necessary in establishing such claim. ``(b) Incomplete Applications.--If a claimant's application for a benefit under the laws administered by the Secretary is incomplete, the Secretary shall notify the claimant and the claimant's representative, if any, of the information necessary to complete the application. The Secretary shall notify each claimant of any additional information and medical and lay evidence necessary to substantiate the claim. As part of such notice, the Secretary shall indicate which portion of such evidence, if any, is to be provided by the claimant and which portion of such evidence, if any, the Secretary will attempt to obtain on behalf of the claimant. ``(c) Time Limitation.--In the case of evidence that the claimant is notified is to be provided by the claimant, if such evidence is not received by the Secretary within one year from the date of such notification, no benefits may be paid or furnished by reason of such application. ``(d) Inapplicability to Certain Benefits.--This section shall not apply to any application or claim for Government life insurance benefits. ``Sec. 5103. Applications: Duty to assist claimants ``(a) Duty To Assist.--The Secretary shall make reasonable efforts to assist in obtaining evidence necessary to establish a claimant's eligibility for a benefit under a law administered by the Secretary. However, the Secretary may decide a claim without providing assistance under this subsection when no reasonable possibility exists that such assistance will aid in the establishment of eligibility for the benefit sought. ``(b) Assistance in Obtaining Records.--(1) As part of the assistance provided under subsection (a), the Secretary shall make reasonable efforts to obtain relevant records that the claimant adequately identifies to the Secretary and authorizes the Secretary to obtain. ``(2) Whenever the Secretary, after making such reasonable efforts, is unable to obtain all of the records sought, the Secretary shall inform the claimant that the Secretary is unable to obtain such records. Such a notice shall-- ``(A) specifically identify the records the Secretary is unable to obtain; ``(B) briefly explain the efforts that the Secretary made to obtain those records; ``(C) describe any further actions to be taken by the Secretary with respect to the claim; and ``(D) request the claimant, if the claimant intends to attempt to obtain such records independently, to so notify the Secretary within a time period to be specified in the notice. ``(c) Obtaining Records for Compensation Claims.--In the case of a claim by a veteran for disability compensation, the assistance provided by the Secretary under subsection (a) shall include obtaining the following records if relevant to the veteran's claim: ``(1) The claimant's existing service medical records and, if the claimant has furnished information sufficient to locate such records, other relevant service records. ``(2) Existing records of relevant medical treatment or examination of the veteran at Department health-care facilities or at the expense of the Department, if the claimant has furnished information sufficient to locate such records. ``(3) Information as described in section 5106 of this title. ``(d) Medical Examinations for Compensation Claims.--In the case of a claim by a veteran for disability compensation, the assistance provided by the Secretary under subsection (a) shall include providing a medical examination, or obtaining a medical opinion, when the evidence of record before the Secretary-- ``(1) establishes that-- ``(A) the claimant has-- ``(i) a current disability; ``(ii) current symptoms of a disease that may not be characterized by symptoms for extended periods of time; or ``(iii) persistent or recurrent symptoms of disability following discharge or release from active military, naval, or air service; and ``(B) there was an event, injury, or disease (or combination of events, injuries, or diseases) during the claimant's active military, naval, or air service capable of causing or aggravating the claimant's current disability or symptoms, but ``(2) is insufficient to establish service-connection of the current disability or symptoms. ``(e) Regulations.--The Secretary shall prescribe regulations to carry out this section. Such regulations shall include provisions for-- ``(1) specifying the evidence necessary under subsection (a) to establish a claimant's eligibility for a benefit under a law administered by the Secretary; and ``(2) determining under subsections (b) and (c) what records are relevant to a claim. ``(f) Rule With Respect to Disallowed Claims.--Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the Secretary to reopen a claim that has been disallowed except when new and material evidence is presented or secured, as described in section 5108 of this title. ``(g) Other Assistance Not Precluded.--Nothing in this section shall be construed as precluding the Secretary from providing such other assistance to a claimant as the Secretary considers appropriate.''. (b) Reenactment of Rule for Claimant's Lacking a Mailing Address.-- Chapter 51 of such title is amended by adding at the end the following new section: ``Sec. 5126. Benefits not to be denied based on lack of mailing address ``Benefits under laws administered by the Secretary may not be denied a claimant on the basis that the claimant does not have a mailing address.''. (c) Clerical Amendments.--The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 51 of such title is amended-- (1) by striking the items relating to sections 5102 and 5103 and inserting the following: ``5102. Applications: forms furnished upon request; notice to claimants of incomplete applications. ``5103. Applications: duty to assist claimants.''; and (2) by adding at the end the following new item: ``5126. Benefits not to be denied based on lack of mailing address.''. SEC. 4. BURDEN OF PROOF. (a) Repeal of ``Well-Grounded Claim'' Rule.--Section 5107 of title 38, United States Code, is amended to read as follows: ``Sec. 5107. Burden of proof; benefit of the doubt ``(a) Burden of Proof.--Except when otherwise provided by this title or by the Secretary in accordance with the provisions of this title, a claimant shall have the burden of proving entitlement to benefits. ``(b) Benefit of the Doubt.--The Secretary shall consider all evidence and material of record in a case before the Department with respect to benefits under laws administered by the Secretary and shall give the claimant the benefit of the doubt when there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence regarding any issue material to the determination of the matter.''. SEC. 5. PROHIBITION OF CHARGES FOR RECORDS FURNISHED BY OTHER FEDERAL DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES. Section 5106 of title 38, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new sentence: ``No charge may be imposed by the head of any such department or agency for providing such information.''. SEC. 6. EFFECTIVE DATE. (a) In General.--Except as specifically provided otherwise, the provisions of section 5107 of title 38, United States Code, as amended by section 4 of this Act, apply to any claim-- (1) filed on or after the date of the enactment of this Act; or (2) filed before the date of the enactment of this Act and not final as of the date of the enactment of this Act. (b) Rule for Claims the Denial of Which Became Final After the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Decision in the Morton Case.--(1) In the case of any claim for benefits-- (A) the denial of which became final during the period beginning on July 14, 1999, and ending on the date of the enactment of this Act; and (B) which was denied or dismissed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs or a court because the claim was not well grounded (as that term was used in section 5107(a) of title 38, United States Code, as in effect during that period), the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall, upon the request of the claimant, or on the Secretary's own motion, order the claim readjudicated under chapter 51 of such title, as amended by this Act, as if such denial or dismissal had not been made. (2) A claim may not be readjudicated under this subsection unless the request is filed or the motion made not later than two years after the date of the enactment of this Act. (3) In the absence of a timely request of a claimant, nothing in this Act shall be construed as establishing a duty on the part of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to locate and readjudicate claims described in this subsection. Passed the House of Representatives July 25, 2000. Attest: JEFF TRANDAHL, Clerk.
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