Text: H.R.2349 — 112th Congress (2011-2012)All Information (Except Text)

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Referred in Senate (10/12/2011)


112th CONGRESS
1st Session
H. R. 2349


IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

October 12, 2011

Received; read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs


AN ACT

To amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the determination of annual income with respect to pensions for certain veterans, to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a pilot program to assess the skills of certain employees and managers of the Veterans Benefits Administration, 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’ Benefits Act of 2011”.

SEC. 2. Assessment of claims-processing skills pilot program.

(a) Pilot program.—Commencing not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, in addition to providing employee certification under section 7732A of title 38, United States Code, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall carry out a pilot program to assess skills and provide training described under subsection (b).

(b) Biennial skills assessment and individualized training.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary shall—

(A) biennially assess the skills of appropriate employees and managers of the Veterans Benefits Administration who are responsible for processing claims for compensation and pension benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary, including by requiring such employees and managers to take the examination provided under section 7732A(a)(1) of title 38, United States Code; and

(B) on the basis of the results of such assessment and examination, and on any relevant regional office quality review, develop and implement an individualized training plan related to such skills for each such employee and manager.

(2) REMEDIATION.—

(A) REMEDIATION PROVIDED.—In providing training under paragraph (1)(B), if any employee or manager receives a less than satisfactory result on any portion of an assessment under paragraph (1)(A), the Secretary shall provide such employee or manager with remediation of any deficiency in the skills related to such portion of the assessment and, within a reasonable period following the remediation, shall require the employee or manager to take the examination again.

(B) PERSONNEL ACTIONS.—In accordance with titles 5 and 38, United States Code, the Secretary shall take appropriate personnel actions with respect to any employee or manager who, after being given two opportunities for remediation under subparagraph (A), does not receive a satisfactory result on an assessment under paragraph (1)(A).

(c) Locations and duration.—The Secretary shall carry out the pilot program under this section at five regional offices of the Veterans Benefits Administration during the four-year period beginning on the date of the commencement of the pilot program.

(d) Authorization of appropriations.—There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section a total of $5,000,000 for fiscal years 2012 through 2016.

(e) Reports.—Not later than November 1 of each year in which the pilot program under this section is carried out, the Secretary shall submit to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate a report on any assessments and training conducted under this section during the previous year. Each such report shall include—

(1) a summary of—

(A) the results of the assessments under subsection (b)(1)(A);

(B) remediation provided under subsection (b)(2)(A); and

(C) personnel actions taken under subsection (b)(2)(B); and

(2) any changes made to the training program under subsection (b)(1)(B) based on the results of such assessments and remediation and the examinations provided under section 7732A(a)(1) of title 38, United States Code.

SEC. 3. Exclusion of certain reimbursements of expenses from determination of annual income with respect to pensions for veterans and surviving spouses and children of veterans.

(a) In general.—Paragraph (5) of section 1503(a) of title 38, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:

“(5) payments regarding—

“(A) reimbursements of any kind (including insurance settlement payments) for—

“(i) expenses related to the repayment, replacement, or repair of equipment, vehicles, items, money, or property resulting from—

“(I) any accident (as defined in regulations which the Secretary shall prescribe), but the amount excluded under this subclause shall not exceed the greater of the fair market value or reasonable replacement value of the equipment or vehicle involved at the time immediately preceding the accident;

“(II) any theft or loss (as defined in regulations which the Secretary shall prescribe), but the amount excluded under this subclause shall not exceed the greater of the fair market value or reasonable replacement value of the item or the amount of the money (including legal tender of the United States or of a foreign country) involved at the time immediately preceding the theft or loss; or

“(III) any casualty loss (as defined in regulations which the Secretary shall prescribe), but the amount excluded under this subclause shall not exceed the greater of the fair market value or reasonable replacement value of the property involved at the time immediately preceding the casualty loss; and

“(ii) medical expenses resulting from any accident, theft, loss, or casualty loss (as defined in regulations which the Secretary shall prescribe), but the amount excluded under this clause shall not exceed the costs of medical care provided to the victim of the accident, theft, loss, or casualty loss; and

“(B) pain and suffering (including insurance settlement payments and general damages awarded by a court) related to an accident, theft, loss, or casualty loss, but the amount excluded under this subparagraph shall not exceed an amount determined by the Secretary on a case-by-case basis;”.

(b) Effective date.—The amendment made by subsection (a) shall take effect on the date that is one year after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(c) Extension of authority to obtain certain information from Department of Treasury.—Section 5317(g) of title 38, United States Code, is amended by striking “2011” and inserting “2013”.

SEC. 4. Authorization of use of electronic communication to provide notice to claimants for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

(a) In general.—Section 5103 of title 38, United States Code, is amended—

(1) in subsection (a)(1)—

(A) by striking “Upon receipt of a complete or substantially complete application, the” and inserting “The”;

(B) by striking “notify” and inserting “provide to”; and

(C) by inserting “by the most effective means available, including electronic communication or notification in writing” before “of any information”; and

(2) in subsection (b), by adding at the end the following new paragraphs:

“(4) Nothing in this section shall require the Secretary to provide notice for a subsequent claim that is filed while a previous claim is pending if the notice previously provided for such pending claim—

“(A) provides sufficient notice of the information and evidence necessary to substantiate such subsequent claim; and

“(B) was sent within one year of the date on which the subsequent claim was filed.

“(5) (A) This section shall not apply to any claim or issue where the Secretary may award the maximum benefit in accordance with this title based on the evidence of record.

“(B) For purposes of this paragraph, the term ‘maximum benefit’ means the highest evaluation assignable in accordance with the evidence of record, as long as such evaluation is supported by such evidence of record at the time the decision is rendered.”.

(b) Construction.—Nothing in the amendments made by subsection (a) shall be construed as eliminating any requirement with respect to the contents of a notice under section 5103 of such title that are required under regulations prescribed pursuant to subsection (a)(2) of such section as of the date of the enactment of this Act.

SEC. 5. Duty to assist claimants in obtaining private records.

(a) In general.—Section 5103A(b) of title 38, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:

“(b) Assistance in obtaining private records.— (1) As part of the assistance provided under subsection (a), the Secretary shall make reasonable efforts to obtain relevant private records.

“(2) (A) 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—

“(i) identify the records the Secretary is unable to obtain;

“(ii) briefly explain the efforts that the Secretary made to obtain such records; and

“(iii) explain that the Secretary will decide the claim based on the evidence of record but that this section does not prohibit the submission of records at a later date if such submission is otherwise allowed.

“(B) The Secretary shall make not less than two requests to a custodian of a private record in order for an effort to obtain relevant private records to be treated as reasonable under this section, unless it is made evident by the first request that a second request would be futile in obtaining such records.

“(3) (A) This section shall not apply if the evidence of record allows for the Secretary to award the maximum benefit in accordance with this title based on the evidence of record.

“(B) For purposes of this paragraph, the term ‘maximum benefit’ means the highest evaluation assignable in accordance with the evidence of record, as long as such evaluation is supported by such evidence of record at the time the decision is rendered.

“(4) Under regulations prescribed by the Secretary, the Secretary—

“(A) shall encourage claimants to submit relevant private medical records of the claimant to the Secretary if such submission does not burden the claimant; and

“(B) in obtaining relevant private records under paragraph (1), may require the claimant to authorize the Secretary to obtain such records if such authorization is required to comply with Federal, State, or local law.”.

(b) Public records.—Section 5103A(c) of such title is amended to read as follows:

“(c) Obtaining Records for Compensation Claims.— (1) In the case of a claim for disability compensation, the assistance provided by the Secretary under this section shall include obtaining the following records if relevant to the claim:

“(A) 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.

“(B) 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.

“(C) Any other relevant records held by any Federal department or agency that the claimant adequately identifies and authorizes the Secretary to obtain.

“(2) Whenever the Secretary attempts to obtain records from a Federal department or agency under this subsection, 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.”.

SEC. 6. Conditions for treatment of certain persons as adjudicated mentally incompetent for certain purposes.

(a) In general.—Chapter 55 of title 38, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new section:

§ 5511. Conditions for treatment of certain persons as adjudicated mentally incompetent for certain purposes

“In any case arising out of the administration by the Secretary of laws and benefits under this title, a person who is mentally incapacitated, deemed mentally incompetent, or experiencing an extended loss of consciousness shall not be considered adjudicated as a mental defective under subsection (d)(4) or (g)(4) of section 922 of title 18 without the order or finding of a judge, magistrate, or other judicial authority of competent jurisdiction that such person is a danger to himself or herself or others.”.

(b) Clerical amendment.—The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 55 of such title is amended by adding at the end the following new item:


“5511. Conditions for treatment of certain persons as adjudicated mentally incompetent for certain purposes.”.

SEC. 7. Reinstatement of penalties for charging veterans unauthorized fees.

(a) In general.—Section 5905 of title 38, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:

§ 5905. Penalty for certain acts

“Except as provided in section 5904 or 1984 of this title, whoever—

“(1) in connection with a proceeding before the Department, knowingly solicits, contracts for, charges, or receives any fee or compensation in connection for—

“(A) the provision of advice on how to file a claim for benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary; or

“(B) the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of such a claim before the date on which a notice of disagreement is filed in a proceeding on the claim,

or attempts to do so;

“(2) unlawfully withholds from any claimant or beneficiary any part of a benefit or claim under the laws administered by the Secretary that is allowed and due to the claimant or beneficiary, or attempts to do so;

“(3) commits an offense punishable by this chapter, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, or procures the commission of such an act; or

“(4) causes an act to be done, which if directly performed would be punishable by this chapter,

shall be fined as provided in title 18, or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.”.

(b) Effective date.—The amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply with respect to acts committed after the date of the enactment of this Act.

SEC. 8. Performance awards in the Senior Executive Service.

For each of fiscal years 2012 through 2016, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs may not pay more than $2,000,000 in performance awards under section 5384 of title 5, United States Code.

SEC. 9. Budgetary effects of this Act.

The budgetary effects of this Act, for the purpose of complying with the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, shall be determined by reference to the latest statement titled “Budgetary Effects of PAYGO Legislation” for this Act, submitted for printing in the Congressional Record by the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, provided that such statement has been submitted prior to the vote on passage.

Passed the House of Representatives October 11, 2011.

    Attest: karen l. haas,   
    Clerk

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