Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000
Post date: Jun 5, 2014 6:27:07 AM
114 STAT. 2096 PUBLIC LAW 106–475—NOV. 9, 2000
Public Law 106–475
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 CLAIMS.
Chapter 51 of title 38, United States Code, is amended by inserting before section 5101 the following new section:
‘‘§ 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.’’.
SEC. 3. ASSISTANCE TO CLAIMANTS.
(a) REAFFIRMATION AND CLARIFICATION OF DUTY TO ASSIST.—
Chapter 51 of title 38, United States Code, is further amended
by striking sections 5102 and 5103 and inserting the following:
‘‘§ 5102. Application forms furnished upon request; notice to claimants of incomplete applications
‘‘(a) FURNISHING FORMS.—Upon request made by any person claiming or applying for, or expressing an intent to claim or apply for, a benefit under the laws administered by the Secretary, the Secretary shall furnish such person, free of all expense, all instructions and forms necessary to apply for that benefit.
‘‘(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.
‘‘§ 5103. Notice to claimants of required information and evidence
‘‘(a) REQUIRED INFORMATION AND EVIDENCE.—Upon receipt of a complete or substantially complete application, the Secretary shall notify the claimant and the claimant’s representative, if any, of any information, and any medical or lay evidence, not previously
provided to the Secretary that is necessary to substantiate the claim. As part of that notice, the Secretary shall indicate which portion of that information and evidence, if any, is to be provided by the claimant and which portion, if any, the Secretary, in accordance with section 5103A of this title and any other applicable provisions of law, will attempt to obtain on behalf of the claimant.
‘‘(b) TIME LIMITATION.—(1) In the case of information or evidence that the claimant is notified under subsection (a) is to be provided by the claimant, if such information or evidence is not received by the Secretary within 1 year from the date of such notification, no benefit may be paid or furnished by reason of the claimant’s application.
‘‘(2) This subsection shall not apply to any application or claim for Government life insurance benefits.
‘‘§ 5103A. Duty to assist claimants
‘‘(a) DUTY TO ASSIST.—(1) The Secretary shall make reasonable efforts to assist a claimant in obtaining evidence necessary to substantiate the claimant’s claim for a benefit under a law administered by the Secretary.
‘‘(2) The Secretary is not required to provide assistance to a claimant under this section if no reasonable possibility exists that such assistance would aid in substantiating the claim.
‘‘(3) The Secretary may defer providing assistance under this section pending the submission by the claimant of essential information missing from the claimant’s application.
‘‘(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 (including private 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 relevant records sought, the Secretary shall notify the claimant that the Secretary is unable to obtain records with respect to the claim. Such a notification shall—
‘‘(A) identify the records the Secretary is unable to obtain;
‘‘(B) briefly explain the efforts that the Secretary made to obtain those records; and
‘‘(C) describe any further action to be taken by the Secretary with respect to the claim.
‘‘(3) Whenever the Secretary attempts to obtain records from a Federal department or agency under this subsection or subsection (c), the efforts to obtain those records shall continue until the records are obtained unless it is reasonably certain that such records do not exist or that further efforts to obtain those records would be futile.
‘‘(c) OBTAINING RECORDS FOR COMPENSATION CLAIMS.—In the case of a claim for disability compensation, the assistance provided by the Secretary under subsection (b) shall include obtaining the following records if relevant to the claim:
‘‘(1) The claimant’s service medical records and, if the claimant has furnished the Secretary information sufficient to locate such records, other relevant records pertaining to the claimant’s
active military, naval, or air service that are held or maintained by a governmental entity.
‘‘(2) Records of relevant medical treatment or examination
of the claimant at Department health-care facilities or at the expense of the Department, if the claimant furnishes information sufficient to locate those records.
‘‘(3) Any other relevant records held by any Federal department or agency that the claimant adequately identifies and authorizes the Secretary to obtain.
‘‘(d) MEDICAL EXAMINATIONS FOR COMPENSATION CLAIMS.—(1) In the case of a claim for disability compensation, the assistance provided by the Secretary under subsection (a) shall include providing a medical examination or obtaining a medical opinion when such an examination or opinion is necessary to make a decision on the claim.
‘‘(2) The Secretary shall treat an examination or opinion as being necessary to make a decision on a claim for purposes of paragraph (1) if the evidence of record before the Secretary, taking
into consideration all information and lay or medical evidence (including statements of the claimant)—
‘‘(A) contains competent evidence that the claimant has a current disability, or persistent or recurrent symptoms of disability; and
‘‘(B) indicates that the disability or symptoms may be associated with the claimant’s active military, naval, or air service; but
‘‘(C) does not contain sufficient medical evidence for the Secretary to make a decision on the claim.
‘‘(e) REGULATIONS.—The Secretary shall prescribe regulations to carry out this section.
‘‘(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 under subsection (a) to a claimant in substantiating a claim as the Secretary considers appropriate.’’.
(b) REENACTMENT OF RULE FOR CLAIMANT’S LACKING A MAILING ADDRESS.—Chapter 51 of such title is further amended by adding at the end the following new section:
‘‘§ 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.’’.
SEC. 4. DECISION ON CLAIM.
Section 5107 of title 38, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:
‘‘§ 5107. Claimant responsibility; benefit of the doubt
‘‘(a) CLAIMANT RESPONSIBILITY.—Except as otherwise provided by law, a claimant has the responsibility to present and support a claim for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary.
‘‘(b) BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT.—The Secretary shall consider all information and lay and medical evidence of record in a case before the Secretary with respect to benefits under laws administered by the Secretary. When there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence regarding any issue material to the determination of a matter, the Secretary shall give the benefit of the doubt to the claimant.’’.
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: ‘‘The cost of providing information to the Secretary under this section shall be borne by the department or agency providing the information.’’.
SEC. 6. CLERICAL AMENDMENTS.
The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 51 of title 38, United States Code, is amended—
(1) by inserting before the item relating to section 5101 the following new item:
‘‘5100. Definition of ‘claimant’.’’;
(2) by striking the items relating to sections 5102 and 5103 and inserting the following:
‘‘5102. Application forms furnished upon request; notice to claimants of incomplete applications.
‘‘5103. Notice to claimants of required information and evidence.
‘‘5103A. Duty to assist claimants.’’;
(3) by striking the item relating to section 5107 and inserting the following:
‘‘5107. Claimant responsibility; benefit of the doubt.’’; and
(4) by adding at the end the following new item:
‘‘5126. Benefits not to be denied based on lack of mailing address.’’.
SEC. 7. 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 that date.
(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 a claim for benefits denied or dismissed as described in paragraph (2), the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall, upon the request of the claimant or on the Secretary’s own motion, order the claim re-adjudicated under chapter 51 of such title, as amended by this Act, as if the denial or dismissal had not been made.
(2) A denial or dismissal described in this paragraph is a denial or dismissal of a claim for a benefit under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs that—
(A) became final during the period beginning on July 14, 1999, and ending on the date of the enactment of this Act; and
(B) was issued 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).
(3) A claim may not be readjudicated under this subsection unless a request for readjudication is filed by the claimant, or a motion is made by the Secretary, not later than 2 years after the date of the enactment of this Act.
(4) In the absence of a timely request of a claimant under paragraph (3), nothing in this Act shall be construed as establishing a duty on the part of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to locate and readjudicate a claim described in this subsection.
Approved November 9, 2000.