Text: H.R.4864 — 106th Congress (1999-2000)All Information (Except Text)
Public Law No: 106-475 (11/09/2000)
[106th Congress Public Law 475]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
VETERANS CLAIMS ASSISTANCE ACT OF 2000
[[Page 114 STAT. 2096]]
Public Law 106-475
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
SEC. 2. CLARIFICATION OF DEFINITION OF ``CLAIMANT'' FOR PURPOSES OF
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
``(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
``(A) contains competent evidence that the claimant has a
current disability, or persistent or recurrent symptoms of
``(B) indicates that the disability or symptoms may be
associated with the claimant's active military, naval, or air
``(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
SEC. 4. DECISION ON CLAIM.
Section 5107 of title 38, United States Code, is amended to read as
``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
``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.'';
(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;
(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):
HOUSE REPORTS: No. 106-781 (Comm. on Veterans' Affairs).
SENATE REPORTS: No. 106-397 accompanying S. 1810 (Comm. on Veterans'
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.