Summary: H.R.2189 — 113th Congress (2013-2014)All Information (Except Text)

Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Passed House amended (10/28/2013)

(This measure has not been amended since it was reported to the House on September 27, 2013. The summary of that version is repeated here.)

Title I: Improvement of Claims Processing - (Sec. 101) Establishes within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) a commission or task force to study: (1) the backlog of veterans' disability claims, including the current process used by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (Secretary) to evaluate claims and appeals and the applicable laws and regulations; and (2) the anticipated increase of such appeals. Requires the commission or task force to submit to the Secretary, the Chairman of the Board of Veterans' Appeals, and the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Veterans Claims information with respect to remedies and solutions identified under the studies. Directs the commission or task force to report to the President on study findings, conclusions, and recommendations, as well as on progress in implementing appropriate solutions to expedite the elimination of the backlog of claims. Requires commission or task force members to be appointed within 15 days after the enactment of this Act and terminates the commission or task force 60 days after submission of its final report. Provides funding.

(Sec. 102) Directs the Secretary to submit to Congress, within 60 days after the enactment of this Act and every 120 days thereafter until May 25, 2015, a supplemental report on VA implementation of the Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog, including verification that during the period covered by the report each claim was approved or denied within 125 days after it was submitted with an accuracy rate of 98%.

(Sec. 103) Directs the Secretary to enter into agreements to ensure that the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration and the Secretary of Defense (DOD) transfer to the VA disability or medical records that the VA Secretary will use to evaluate a disability claim by not later than 30 days after the Secretary requests such records. Requires the two Secretaries to submit to Congress, and implement, a plan to reduce to 30 days the time needed to provide members of the National Guard and the VA Secretary with the medical records of Guard members.

(Sec. 104) Requires the Secretary to establish a two-year training program for newly-hired VA claims processors.

(Sec. 105) Directs the Comptroller General to report to Congress on the progress of the Secretary in improving the timeliness of claims processing and eliminating the claims backlog.

(Sec. 106) Directs the Secretary, in processing veterans claims for compensation, to provide priority over other claimants to veterans: (1) who have attained age 70; (2) who are terminally ill; (3) with life-threatening illnesses; (4) who are homeless; (5) who were awarded the Medal of Honor; (6) who are former prisoners of war; (7) whose claims are being re-reviewed in relation to a previously denied claim relating to military sexual trauma; and (8) whom the Secretary determines, on a case-by-case basis, either are seriously or very seriously injured or should be given priority based on an application for good cause established by the Secretary.

(Sec. 107) Directs the Secretary to maintain on the VA website publicly accessible information concerning pending and completed claims of compensation for a veteran's service-connected disability or death , including the number of claims pending and completed, and the average number of days between submission and completion, for certain periods. Requires the information provided to be updated at least every seven days.

(Sec. 108) Directs the Secretary to include in a required annual VA activities and costs report to Congress information on the automatic processing of claims for compensation during the preceding year, including each medical condition for which claims were processed and the number of claims for each condition.

(Sec. 109) Directs the Secretary to post notices of average times for the processing of compensation claims, as well as the percentage of claims approved, in a conspicuous place in each VA regional office and claims intake facility and on the VA website. Requires the Secretary to notify each person submitting a claim of such information and of the person's eligibility to receive up to an extra year of benefit payments upon filing an original claim that is fully developed. Requires the notice information to be updated at least quarterly.

Title II: Compensation and Pensions - (Sec. 201) Amends the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003 to extend through 2016 VA authority for the performance of medical disability evaluations by contract physicians. Permits licensed, VA-contracted physicians to conduct such examinations at any location in any state, the District of Columbia, or a commonwealth, territory, or possession of the United States, so long as the examination is authorized under the contract. Amends the Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 1996 to provide similar authorities with respect to permissible examination locations to licensed physicians under the pilot program authorizing the VA to use contract physicians to perform medical disability examinations of applicants for benefits under laws carried out through the Under Secretary for Benefits. Expands from 10 to 15 the maximum number of VA regional offices through which the Secretary is authorized to carry out the pilot program.

(Sec. 202) Provides that if a veteran eligible for a pension for service or for a non-service-connected disability, or the spouse of such veteran, disposes of a resource that was part of such veteran's estate for less than its fair market value within three years before applying for such pension, the Secretary shall deny or discontinue the pension payment for months beginning on the date of such disposition and ending when the uncompensated value of such resource is reached. Provides the same denial or discontinuance in the case of a veteran eligible for an increased pension payment on account of a child, unless the Secretary determines that such denial or discontinuance would work an undue hardship. Applies the same denial or discontinuance, with the same exception, in the case of: (1) a veteran's surviving spouse who disposes of a covered resource for less than fair market value within such period, and (2) an increased pension for such spouse on account of a child. Requires the Secretary, at the time a veteran, surviving spouse, or child applies for such a pension, to: (1) inform the individual of such requirements, and (2) obtain information to determine whether a period of ineligibility for such payments will be required. Requires annual reports from the Secretary, through 2018, on the administration of this section.

(Sec. 203) Directs the Secretary, over the eight-year period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act, prior to adjudicating a claim that requires decisions with respect to two or more disabilities, to make interim payments based on any disability for which the Secretary has already made a decision. Requires the Secretary, upon claim adjudication, to pay the benefits awarded less the amount of the interim payments.

(Sec. 204) Extends through FY2018 the current $90 per month limit on the amount of a VA pension that may be paid to veterans residing in nursing homes when their nursing costs are paid through title XIX (Medicaid) of the Social Security Act.

Title III: Other Matters - (Sec. 301) Directs the DOD Secretary to: (1) review the logs of each Navy ship known to have operated in the waters near Vietnam during the Vietnam Era (January 9, 1962, through May 7, 1975); (2) determine the dates of operation and the closest proximity to shore of each such ship; and (3) provide such information to the VA Secretary. Requires the VA Secretary to make such unclassified information publicly available.

(Sec. 302) Directs the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to accept additional documentation for verifying honorable service as a coastwise merchant seaman between December 7, 1941, and December 31, 1946, for purposes of eligibility for veterans' benefits under the GI Bill Improvement Act of 1977. Requires such documentation to include Social Security Administration records and validated testimony in the case of the absence of Coast Guard shipping or discharge forms, ship logbooks, documents, or other official employment records. Requires the Secretary, when determining whether to recognize service allegedly performed during such period, to recognize masters of seagoing vessels or other command officers who were authorized to document an individual for purposes of hiring for or discharging from the merchant marine. Considers any service so recognized as active-duty service for purposes of veterans' burial benefits. Makes such veterans eligible for any appropriate military medals, ribbons, and decorations. Requires the DHS Secretary to verify that an individual performed such service under honorable conditions without regard to their sex, age, or disability during the service period.

(Sec. 303) Directs the Secretary to designate at least one city in the United States each year as an "American World War II City" based on its: (1) contributions to the war effort during World War II; and (2) efforts to preserve the history of such contributions, including preservation organizations or museums, restoration of World War II facilities, and recognition of World War II veterans. Designates Wilmington, North Carolina, as the first such city.

(Sec. 304) Directs the President to issue an annual proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe two minutes of silence on Veterans Day, beginning at 3:11 p.m. Atlantic standard time, in honor of the service and sacrifice of veterans throughout the history of the nation.