Summary: S.2237 — 107th Congress (2001-2002)All Information (Except Text)

Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Passed Senate amended (09/26/2002)

Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2002 - Title I: Compensation and Pension Matters - Requires the payment of veterans' disability compensation to a woman veteran for the anatomical loss of half or more of the tissue of (currently, all of the tissue of) one or more breasts suffered as a result of a service-connected disability.

(Sec. 102) Provides that a veteran's hearing loss must be deafness compensable to a degree of ten percent or more (currently, total deafness) in one ear as a result of service-connected disability and deafness (currently, total deafness) in the other ear as the result of non-service-connected disability in order to qualify for disability compensation.

(Sec. 103) Considers the hearing loss and/or tinnitus of a veteran whose active military occupational specialty likely exposed such veteran to a high level of acoustic trauma to have been incurred in or aggravated by military service (and therefore to be compensable under veterans' disability compensation), notwithstanding that there is no record of evidence of such hearing loss or tinnitus during such service. Requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs: (1) in determining which occupational specialties qualify as having such acoustic trauma, to take into account a report required to be submitted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) under this Act; (2) to report to the congressional veterans' committees on any determination that such a presumption is not warranted; and (3) to enter into an agreement with NAS or other appropriate scientific organization to perform the assessment of acoustic trauma associated with various military occupational specialties. Requires a report from: (1) the NAS to the Secretary concerning assessment activities; and (2) the Secretary to the veterans' committees on claims submitted for disability compensation or health care based on hearing loss or tinnitus.

(Sec. 104) Increases from $600 to $1,000 the monthly special pension for individuals entered on the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard Medal of Honor Roll. Directs the Secretary to increase such amount by the same percentage that benefit amounts under title II (Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance) of the Social Security Act are increased each year after 2002. Requires the Secretary to make a lump-sum payment of such pension for the period between the act of valor for which the person was awarded the Medal of Honor and the date on which the special pension actually commenced.

(Sec. 105) Includes as a prohibited assignment of veterans' benefits any agreement entered into by a beneficiary under which another person acquires for consideration the right to receive any compensation, pension, or dependency and indemnity compensation of such beneficiary. Provides criminal penalties for violations. Directs the Secretary to conduct an outreach program to inform veterans and other potential recipients of such compensation or pension of the prohibition against the assignment of such benefits, including information on various schemes to evade the prohibition and means of avoiding such schemes.

(Sec. 106) Extends through FY 2011 the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury to furnish veterans' income information to the Department of Veterans Affairs for purposes of determining eligibility for various veterans' needs-based benefits.

Title II: Education Matters - Increases for FY 2003 through 2005 the amounts authorized to be paid by the Secretary to State and local agencies for the reimbursement of administrative expenses related to ascertaining the qualifications of educational institutions for furnishing courses to veterans and eligible beneficiaries under the Montgomery GI Bill and other veterans' educational assistance programs.

Title III: Housing Matters - Extends through FY 2005 the authority of the Secretary to guarantee adjustable rate mortgages through the Department for eligible veterans. Includes within such guaranteed mortgages hybrid adjustable rate mortgages (mortgages whose interest rates are adjusted after as few as three years) which do not correspond to a specified national interest rate index approved by the Secretary.

Title IV: Other Benefits Matters - Amends the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940 to provide that duty performed with the National Guard mobilized by a State to carry out homeland security activities shall qualify as military service.

(Sec. 402) Prohibits persons convicted of or found to have committed a Federal or State capital crime from being furnished a presidential memorial certificate, a flag to drape a casket, or a headstone or marker for a grave. Removes the requirement of notification of the appropriate Federal official that a person avoided conviction of such capital crime through flight or death before the prohibition against the interment or memorialization of such person in national cemeteries may take effect.

Title V: Judicial, Procedural, and Administrative Matters - Requires the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC), before reversing a finding of fact made by the Board of Veterans' Appeals, to determine that such finding is unsupported by substantial evidence of record. Directs the CAVC, in making such determination, to review the record of proceedings before the Secretary and the Board.

(Sec. 502) Permits the Federal Circuit to review CAVC decisions on questions of law.

(Sec. 503) Allows the CAVC, when awarding attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, to award compensation to qualified non-attorney representatives appearing before the CAVC.

(Sec. 504) Applies the Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000 to any claim: (1) filed on or after November 9, 2000; or (2) filed and not final as of such date.