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:...


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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.

Pages: 1

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