Text: H.R.4864 — 106th Congress (1999-2000)All Information (Except Text)

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Public Law No: 106-475 (11/09/2000)

 
[106th Congress Public Law 475]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]


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[DOCID: f:publ475.106]


[[Page 2095]]

                 VETERANS CLAIMS ASSISTANCE ACT OF 2000

[[Page 114 STAT. 2096]]

Public Law 106-475
106th Congress

                                 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. <<NOTE: Nov. 9, 2000 -  [H.R. 4864]>> 

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the 
United States of America in Congress <<NOTE: Veterans Claims Assistance 
Act of 2000.>>  assembled,

SECTION 1. <<NOTE: 38 USC 101 note.>>  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:

``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.''.

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:

``Sec. 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.

``Sec. 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

[[Page 114 STAT. 2097]]

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.

``Sec. 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

[[Page 114 STAT. 2098]]

        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:

``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.''.

SEC. 4. DECISION ON CLAIM.

    Section 5107 of title 38, United States Code, is amended to read as 
follows:

``Sec. 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

[[Page 114 STAT. 2099]]

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. <<NOTE: 38 USC 5107 note.>>  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 
readjudicated 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

[[Page 114 STAT. 2100]]

        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.

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY--H.R. 4864 (S. 1810):
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HOUSE REPORTS: No. 106-781 (Comm. on Veterans' Affairs).
SENATE REPORTS: No. 106-397 accompanying S. 1810 (Comm. on Veterans' 
Affairs).
CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, Vol. 146 (2000):
            July 25, considered and passed House.
            Sept. 25, considered and passed Senate, amended.
            Oct. 17, House concurred in Senate amendment.
WEEKLY COMPILATION OF PRESIDENTIAL DOCUMENTS, Vol. 36 (2000):
            Nov. 9, Presidential statement.

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