Report text available as:

(PDF provides a complete and accurate display of this text.) Tip?



110th Congress                                                   Report
                        HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
 2d Session                                                     110-789

======================================================================



 
     VETERANS DISABILITY BENEFITS CLAIMS MODERNIZATION ACT OF 2008

                                _______
                                

 July 29, 2008.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the 
              State of the Union and ordered to be printed

                                _______
                                

  Mr. Filner, from the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, submitted the 
                               following

                              R E P O R T

                        [To accompany H.R. 5892]

      [Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]

    The Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to whom was referred 
the bill (H.R. 5892) to amend title 38, United States Code, to 
direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to modernize the 
disability benefits claims processing system of the Department 
of Veterans Affairs to ensure the accurate and timely delivery 
of compensation to veterans and their families and survivors, 
and for other purposes, having considered the same, report 
favorably thereon without amendment and recommend that the bill 
do pass.

                                CONTENTS

                                                                   Page
Purpose and Summary..............................................     2
Background and Need for Legislation..............................     2
Hearings.........................................................    20
Subcommittee Consideration.......................................    25
Committee Consideration..........................................    25
Committee Votes..................................................    25
Committee Oversight Findings.....................................    25
Statement of General Performance Goals and Objectives............    25
New Budget Authority, Entitlement Authority, and Tax Expenditures    25
Earmarks and Tax and Tariff Benefits.............................    25
Committee Cost Estimate..........................................    25
Congressional Budget Office Estimate.............................    26
Federal Mandates Statement.......................................    29
Advisory Committee Statement.....................................    29
Constitutional Authority Statement...............................    29
Applicability to Legislative Branch..............................    30
Section-by-Section Analysis of the Legislation...................    30
Changes in Existing Law Made by the Bill as Reported.............    33

                          Purpose and Summary

    H.R. 5892 was introduced by Representative John J. Hall of 
New York, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Disability 
Assistance and Memorial Affairs, on April 24, 2008. This 
legislation, as amended, would comprehensively overhaul the 
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims processing system to 
ensure the accurate and timely delivery of compensation and 
pension benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors.

                  Background and Need for Legislation

    There are nearly 24 million veterans and more than 2.7 
million receive disability compensation benefits from the VA. 
Upon filing a claim for disability compensation benefits at VA, 
veterans and their beneficiaries face increased waiting times. 
As many veterans service organizations assert, a ``benefit 
delayed is a benefit denied.''
    As of July 19, 2008, the number of pending disability 
compensation claims stood at nearly 630,000, with almost a 
quarter of these pending for longer than six months. In 2007, 
the VA Regional Offices (VAROs) took in more than 800,000 
claims for disability compensation, up from 675,000 in 2006. 
The number of filed claims is likely to increase steadily as 
Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/
OIF) veterans return and veterans from previous conflicts age. 
Although the VA's fiscal year 2009 budget submission projected 
receipt of more than 872,000 claims, the actual number of 
claims received in the coming year could easily exceed one 
million.
    As VA's inventory of claims increases, its realistic 
ability to process these claims in a timely fashion under its 
current system has been called into serious question. In 2007, 
the average claims processing waiting time increased by six 
days from 177 days in 2006 to 183 days. According to the VA 
Office of the Inspector General (OIG), VA failed to meet its 
2007 performance goals or targets in all major compensation and 
pension rating related actions: compensation and pension rating 
related actions--target 160 days, actual 183 days (6-day 
increase); Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)--target 
125 days, actual 132 days (7-day increase); non-rating pension 
actions--target 96 days, actual 104 days (8-day increase); 
burial reimbursements--target 60 days, actual 91 days (31-day 
increase); percent of applications for headstones and markers 
for the graves of veterans not buried in national cemeteries 
within 20 days--target 70 percent, actual 38 percent. Moreover, 
the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) consistently missed 
customer satisfaction targets and the time for seasoned raters 
to complete ready-to-rate claims (claims that are fully-
developed) increased from 127 days to 135 days.\1\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \1\Department of Veterans Affairs, FY 2007 Performance and 
Accountability Report, See generally, pp. 265-268.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    The Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission (VDBC), 
established pursuant to Public Law 108-136, issued its report 
Honoring the Call to Duty: Veterans' Disability Benefits in the 
21st Century on October 3, 2007. The VDBC found that two-thirds 
of compensation claims made each year are from veterans 
previously determined to have a service-connected disability 
and most are veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. It concluded 
that as this population ages, the VBA can expect to see 
increases in the percentage of claims for worsening or chronic 
conditions. Currently, the average age of veterans who are 
filing claims for disability compensation is 55. The VDBC also 
found that in 2006, the large majority of claims (81 percent) 
were reopened claims (claims that were initially denied or the 
veteran was dissatisfied with the disability rating) and 
approximately 20 percent were original claims.
    The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 (Public Law 
110-161) secured the largest increase in VA funding with a 
record $4.8 billion increase in VA discretionary funding above 
fiscal year 2007 enacted levels. This increase included 
additional resources for the VA to be able to secure more than 
1,300 new VBA employees, in addition to the 1,700 full-time 
employees (FTEs) from recent funding cycles. However, the 
Committee has heard from some VBA employees that new hires 
often have no place to work and may be assigned to non-
production duties due to space constraints.
    The VA, in its fiscal year 2009 budget request, sought an 
additional 703 FTEs for the VBA. Although the Committee 
supports hiring additional employees to address the claims 
backlog, the Committee believes that adding them to a broken 
processing system will not necessarily eliminate the backlog or 
decrease lengthy processing times for veterans filing 
disability claims.
    Dating as far back as the Bradley Commission Report of 
1956, VA has been awash in informed recommendations on how to 
improve its claims processing system. Yet, despite the benefit 
of numerous well-informed and detailed reports, the Committee 
finds that VA leadership has consistently failed to implement 
most of the stated recommendations for reform and to develop 
its own strategic plan with proper forecasting and 
accountability.
    The VDBC urged the VA to simplify and expedite the 
processing of disability claims. The President's Commission on 
Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors (Dole-Shalala 
Commission) report, while lacking specifics on how to carry out 
the reinvention, called for revamping of VA's entire claims 
processing system. The Committee concluded, based on these and 
an innumerable number of other reports, as well as its own 
analysis and oversight, that the VA's disability claims 
processing system is heavily paper-based, relies on WWII-era 
processing and disability paradigms, is fraught with 
inefficiencies and is in need of 21st Century improvements.\2\ 
The Committee believes that the linchpin to problems in claims 
processing begins with the failure to properly develop and 
adjudicate original claims at the VARO level within the VBA.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \2\The VDBC found that while, ``[t]echnology offers opportunity for 
improvements, but it is unlikely to solve all problems. The Commission 
believes that increased reliance on best business practices and maximum 
use of information technology should be coupled with a simplified and 
expedited process for well-documented claims to improve timeliness and 
reduce the backlog.'' VDBC report at 15 (Executive Summary).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Moreover, as it has been every year since 2003, modernizing 
the VA's disability program again was placed on the Government 
Accountability Office's (GAO) high-risk list for 2007.\3\ 
Finding that the current system has lagged behind economic and 
social changes, the GAO stated that VA should take a lead role 
in seeking the regulatory and legislative solutions needed to 
transform its programs so that they are aligned with the 
current state of science, medicine, technology, and labor 
market conditions. Due to continued variation experienced in 
the decisions made at the field level offices, the GAO 
recommended a comprehensive review of the structure and the 
division of labor in the VAROs. The Committee concurs in these 
findings.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \3\GAO, High Risk List: An Update, GAO 07-310 (Washington, DC, 
January 2007).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    The production challenges VA faces are not new problems for 
the VBA and there are several reasons for the failures of VA's 
claims processing system that the Committee's oversight has 
uncovered or reemphasized which led to the development of H.R. 
5892.\4\ While there may have been a few circumstances at play 
beyond VA's control (e.g., the OEF/OIF war efforts and influx 
of returning veterans), the Committee remains perplexed at the 
VA's inability to vigorously address managerial and systematic 
problems in the claims processing system.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \4\See, generally, VA Claims Processing Taskforce, Report to the 
Secretary of Veterans Affairs, October 2001.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    H.R. 5892 would comprehensively modernize the VBA claims 
processing system and arm it with the up-to-date tools and 
paradigms it needs to process claims using integrated 
information technology and platforms, while improving the 
accountability, timeliness, and quality of adjudicated claims. 
Additionally, it would enhance the annual reporting 
requirements of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans 
Claims as well as provide the Court with more discretion to 
decide all issues raised on appeal by appellate veterans. The 
Committee believes that H.R. 5892 will help VA update its 
claims processing system so that the VBA will become a 21st 
century, world-class entity that reflects the selfless 
sacrifices of those it serves--our veterans, their families, 
and survivors.

                  VA SCHEDULE FOR RATING DISABILITIES

    Veterans' disabilities are evaluated in accordance with the 
VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD). The VASRD was 
originally created in 1917 to address the needs of returning 
World War I veterans and avoid the economic devastation that 
the United States faced after the Civil War. The VASRD was last 
comprehensively revised in 1945, although modifications have 
been made to certain sections. Overall, the VASRD contains many 
outdated and archaic criteria and lacks more commonly accepted 
medical practices and procedures. Studies conducted in 2007 by 
the Institute of Medicine (IOM), entitled PTSD Compensation and 
Military Service and A 21st Century System for Evaluating 
Veterans for Disability Benefits, and the Center for Naval 
Analyses Corporation (CNAC) 2007, found it to be an inadequate 
instrument for compensating disabilities for the average 
impairments of earning capacity, especially in the areas of 
mental health, unemployability, and issues affecting younger 
severely injured veterans.\5\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \5\Christensen, E. McMahon, Et. Al. Final Report for the Veterans' 
Disability Benefits Commission: Survey Results and Selected Topics. CRM 
D0016570.A2/Final. Center for Naval Analyses, Alexandria, VA: August 
2007. pp. 194-195.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    The IOM further recommended the VASRD be revised using more 
modern medical concepts in order to interrelate with other 
commonly used codes or guides, such as the International 
Classification of Diseases published by the World Health 
Organization; the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published 
by the American Psychiatric Association, or the Guides to 
Evaluating Permanent Impairment published by the American 
Medical Association.
    This provision of H.R. 5892, derived in part from the 
Veterans Quality of Life Study Act of 2007, H.R. 4084, 
introduced by the Honorable John J. Hall of New York on 
November 6, 2007, would require the Secretary to conduct a 
study on adjusting the VASRD to take into account the loss of 
quality of life and loss of earnings capacity as recommended by 
the IOM. VA also would need to submit a plan and timeline to 
Congress for the revision of the VASRD using current medical 
and technological concepts, practices, and standards. An 
implementation plan and biannual progress reports would be due 
to Congress not later than three years after enactment. 
Additionally, this provision requires the establishment of an 
18-member Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation to 
consist of leading experts who will guide the Secretary on 
revising and readjusting the VASRD in the future.
    Current law requires that VA compensate service-disabled 
veterans for loss of potential earnings. However, the 
aforementioned IOM and CNAC reports indicate that service-
connected disabled veterans report lower quality of life than 
the average population. Currently, it is not clear whether the 
VA standard addresses the non-work-related effects of permanent 
physical and mental combat-related injuries, although special 
monthly compensation awards are currently made for veterans who 
qualify.
    Following extensive research, the VDBC, the IOM, and the 
Dole-Shalala Commission all concluded that VA should compensate 
disabled veterans for their loss of ability to function in 
activities of daily life and, if possible, for the loss of 
quality of life. These entities further recommended that 
Congress direct VA to revise the VASRD to account for these 
additional effects of impairment. Answering the call of these 
recommendations, H.R. 5892 would require VA to commission a 
study to determine the appropriate level and duration of 
benefits that would compensate veterans for the full impact of 
their service-connected disability. VA policy officials 
informed the Committee that a study consistent with the 
requirement in H.R. 5892 is currently ongoing. It is the 
intention of the Committee that this provision inform VA's 
implementation of this study's findings.

                 EMPLOYEE WORK CREDIT SYSTEM OF THE VBA

    The Committee finds that VBA's current work credit system 
does not take into account the correct or incorrect outcome of 
the claim, but rather focuses on the number of tasks completed 
by the individual claims rating personnel leading, ultimately, 
to very little individual accountability within the VBA.
    Currently, each claim is given an ``end product code,'' 
which estimates the amount of time it will take for an employee 
to complete their assigned tasks for each claim. After 
completing this task, the employee receives credit for their 
work. The time included in the product code for each task 
varies by difficulty of the task that was completed. This means 
that a member of the Post-Determination team may only work on 
three claims a day because of the level of difficulty while a 
member of the triage team may complete ten claims in a day. 
These end product codes are also linked to the difficulty level 
of the claims adjudicated. For example, the employee (and 
ultimately the VARO) receives more credit if they complete an 
original compensation claim vs. an original pension claim. Even 
though these work credits and end product codes are not 
supposed to serve as part of the employee's, and VARO's, 
performance standards it has been shown that this is one of the 
first statistics VBA examines when it evaluates performance.
    While a seemingly sound system in theory, The American 
Legion, National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) and 
many other veterans service organizations have informed the 
Committee repeatedly during hearings conducted during the 110th 
Congress, that the practical effects of the current system 
places a dangerous emphasis on quantity over quality where the 
accuracy of adjudicated claims suffers as a result. Since 
employees receive credit for the work they do, regardless of 
whether they did the work correctly, there is less of an 
incentive for any employee to do the work correctly the first 
time. For instance, when an employee makes a mistake where a 
decision is overruled by the Decision Review Officer (DRO), 
Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) or the Court of Appeals for 
Veterans Claims (CAVC), there is little to no counseling with 
that individual employee to remediate the mistake to prevent 
future errors. Instead, when enough errors of a certain type 
have been made by a VARO, a remediation team comes in and 
trains the whole team on these deficiencies even if this 
training is only needed by a few members of the team.
    Several witnesses have suggested that Congress direct VA to 
change this current system to create one where a VARO cannot 
receive credit for its work until one year after the 
adjudication of a claim occurs. This timeframe coincides with 
the statutory limit on how long a veteran can take to file an 
appeal with the BVA. The rationale is that lengthening the 
timeframe to receive credit would force the VARO to take more 
time examining the quality of their decisions in the first 
instance. H.R. 5892 does not capture this recommendation, but 
the Committee views it as a viable alternative for ensuring 
better accountability.
    Moreover, the Committee believes that there is no reason 
why the VBA could not continue to use its current work credit 
system while the new system is being implemented. With 
increasing BVA and CAVC dockets, it is critically important 
that VA's 57 VAROs adjudicate claims correctly the first time. 
Improving VBA's work credit system is one way to do that. The 
Committee points out that the language of H.R. 5892 is not 
intended to preclude VA from using its current end product 
coding system for identifying and distinguishing workload.
    H.R. 5892 would require the Secretary to conduct a study of 
the VBA's work credit system focusing on improving the quality, 
performance, accuracy of claims, and the enhanced use of 
information technology. VA would have to report to Congress on 
how it plans to implement a new system for measuring work 
production within 180 days of enactment. The legislation would 
require suspension of the current work credit system if VA 
fails to implement a new system for measuring work production 
of VBA employees.

                       VA WORK MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

    In 2002, VA shifted its claims processing system from a 
case management model, where one employee was responsible for 
completion of a claims file, to the Claims Process Improvement 
(CPI) model which emphasizes specialization of processing. 
According to VA, the CPI model allows for specialization of 
processing through the use of six specialized teams. Four of 
these teams address specific cycles in claims processing: 
triage, pre-determination, rating, and post-determination. Two 
additional teams, public contact and appeals, address important 
areas related to operations. VA reasoned it would be easier to 
spot process or flow disruptions by shifting from an individual 
focus to a process focus. Additionally, training and 
development could be specific and focused and tools to monitor 
inventory would be more effective. However, the Committee 
concludes that to date, none of these projected efficiencies 
have been realized for VA's current claims processing system 
after adoption of the CPI.
    The Committee finds that what the CPI model means to a 
veteran filing a claim is that, at the very least, six VBA 
employees handle the claim, none of whom are held accountable 
for any of the errors it may contain. If the case is appealed 
or remanded, it does not seem as if this error reverts back to 
the actual employee who committed the error for corrective 
action. When there is no accountability or consequence for poor 
quality, then employees may not have an incentive to focus the 
work product on quality outputs.
    Between 2000 and 2007, the appeals rate on disability 
determinations has more than doubled to approximately 12 
percent. According to VA, the current remand rate (cases sent 
back to VARO for further development) is approximately 57 
percent. More importantly, both the backlog and processing 
times have increased dramatically since implementation of the 
CPI model in 2002 and quality and accuracy seem to have been 
dramatically sacrificed. This poor performance trend seems 
likely to continue for the foreseeable future and the Committee 
finds that VA needs to shift its claims processing system from 
this extremely unsuccessful paradigm.
    During a Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial 
Affairs hearing concerning the VA claims backlog on February 
14, 2008, the American Federation of Government Employees 
(AFGE) stated that it was ``concerned that the claims process 
improvement pendulum had swung too far turning the claims 
process into an assembly line'' with accountability being hard 
to pinpoint. AFGE further stated that ``[t]here are many 
benefits when employees work the entire claim from the 
application to the appeal[.] Our members really feel the loss 
of weekly case management meetings that used to give them the 
opportunity to discuss challenging claims, changes in the laws 
and best practices.''
    H.R. 5892 would require the Secretary to conduct a study 
and report on the work management system of the VBA. The 
Committee finds that the current CPI model does not focus on 
accuracy and is overly geared towards production and output 
without regard to quality or accountability.
    While this provision is not intended to compel VA to return 
to its pre-CPI claims processing model, the Committee does find 
that its current system fails to provide adequate training for 
raters, timely notification of changes in law, or opportunities 
to standardize best practices throughout all of its regional 
offices. As such, these lessons from the past should be used to 
inform VA's efforts to improve the accountability and accuracy 
of its current claims processing paradigm.
    The Committee believes that overall, VA needs to focus on 
making its disability claims processing system more veteran-
focused and much less process-focused. CPI, as currently 
implemented, seems antithetical to meeting this need. H.R. 5892 
would encourage VA to reevaluate and revise its current failed 
claims processing model.\6\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \6\According to the VDBC and based on Committee assessments, the 
most time-consuming part of claims processing is the time it takes to 
begin development until the time the development has been received and 
the claim is referred to the rating board for a decision. When the 
average processing time was 181 days, the VDBC estimated that the 
development portion of the claims process takes approximately 111 days. 
Including the other 3-4 steps in the CPI Model, which all disability 
claims are subjected, it seems nearly impossible for VA to ever meet 
its current claims processing target of 145 days.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

     CERTIFICATION AND TRAINING OF EMPLOYEES OF VETERANS BENEFITS 
            ADMINISTRATION RESPONSIBLE FOR PROCESSING CLAIMS

    The training program for VBA employees seems to still 
present challenges for VA. The Committee applauds recent 
efforts by the VBA to require at least 80 hours of training for 
each employee and to centralize the training program at its 
National Training Academy in Baltimore. However, gaps in 
training and inconsistencies between the VAROs clearly persist. 
As pointed out by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) in 
its study on VARO variances, points on which the Committee 
concurs, the VBA needs to standardize initial and ongoing 
training for rating specialists which includes implementing its 
Training and Performance Support System (TPSS), Rating Veteran 
Service Representative (RVSR) certification, and advanced 
development training for complex claims (like PTSD).\7\ The VBA 
informed the Committee that it plans to reinstate its RVSR 
testing certification which it had suspended for over two years 
due to poor performance. However, disputes continue between 
management and labor on test contents.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \7\Institute for Defense Analyses, Analysis of Differences in VA 
Disability Compensation, August 2007, p. 39.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    The Committee believes that certification testing is an 
appropriate means to measure an employee's qualifications and 
skills and should be a part of the VA's human resources 
evaluation system.
    The Systematic Technical Accuracy Review (STAR) is the 
VBA's national program for measuring compensation and pension 
claims processing accuracy. The STAR includes evaluation of 
work in three areas: claims that usually require a rating 
decision, claims that generally do not require a rating 
decision, and fiduciary work. Audit style case reviews are 
conducted after completion of all required processing actions 
on a claim. The review is outcome-based and includes all 
elements of processing the particular claim. STAR accuracy 
review results are generated for all 57 VAROs and are included 
in both the station and VARO Director's annual performance 
measures, but not an individual employee's performance 
measures.
    The STAR review takes a sample size of ten cases requiring 
a rating decision, ten cases that do not require a rating 
decision, and three to ten cases of fiduciary work. The samples 
are reviewed monthly at each of VBA's 57 VAROs. These numbers 
are somewhat different for smaller and larger stations. This 
means that roughly 19,000 claims or 2.4 percent are reviewed by 
STAR each year.
    These cases are randomly selected for each area based on 
end product codes. When completing a review, raters use a 
special checklist that checks for everything from development 
to dates and completion of duty to assist letters. An answer of 
``No'' to any of the questions on the checklist relating to the 
processing of the issue (end product) action under review will 
result in the case being classified as ``in error.'' The last 
section of the rating, authorization and fiduciary checklists, 
contains an area for administrative questions that are not 
related to the accuracy of claims processing: an answer of 
``No'' for one of these questions will not indicate error in 
the case.
    It is unclear what the VBA actually does with STAR reviews 
once they are completed. If a claim is found to be in error, a 
re-adjudication is requested and is supposed to be completed by 
VARO staff. It is uncertain what additional training is 
conducted or whether or not there is any level of 
accountability for an individual VARO when mistakes are made.
    In an August 2007 report, the IDA recommended that VA 
increase oversight and review rating decisions by increasing 
the STAR's staffing and sample size, by participation of STAR 
staff in site visits, and by using STAR results to clarify 
procedures and focus training activities and enhancements to 
the STAR database. Additionally, the report called for VA to 
improve and expand data capture and retention (a byproduct of 
transition from the legacy to its corporate system, VETSNET) 
with more robust data collection and better support for 
information management and analysis.\8\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \8\Ibid, p. 41.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    As of July 2008, there were more than 162,000 appeals 
currently pending in VAROs and the VBA's Appeals Management 
Center, including cases requiring processing prior to transfer 
to the BVA and cases remanded to the VBA offices by the BVA or 
the CAVC. Also, there are nearly 40,000 additional appeals now 
pending at the BVA. By most accounts, this increase is due to a 
sharp increase in denials by the VBA and poorly adjudicated 
claims at the VARO in the first instance.
    This ``hamster wheel'' appeal cycle adds years to the 
processing time for a veteran's claim and the OIG found that 
``all of these processes--initial decisions by VBA, pre-
appellate reviews in VA regional offices, actions by VBA's 
Appeals Management Center, consideration at BVA, and ultimately 
consideration by the CAVC--present VA with a formidable 
challenge in terms of timeliness in providing monetary benefits 
to veterans.''\9\ The Committee believes the VBA should devote 
significant resources to addressing this growing crisis and 
continue to improve its training and accountability to reduce 
the avoidable remand rate.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \9\Department of Veterans Affairs, FY 2007 Performance and 
Accountability Report, p. 266.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    The Committee is pleased that the VBA indicated in the VA's 
fiscal year 2009 budget submission that it plans to increase 
its STAR staff by approximately12 FTEs and insists that the 
STAR accuracy rating has improved since fiscal year 2004 to 
about 88 percent (although its stated goal is 98 percent). The 
Committee believes the VBA should increase the number of cases 
subject to STAR Review and develop a system of accountability 
for improperly processed claims.
    Lastly, there have been on-going problems with VA's ability 
to recruit and retain qualified rating officials and managers. 
In general, it takes two to three years to train a rater who 
will stay on the job for an average of five years. Senior 
employees are at retirement age and many are expected to leave 
the VA in the near future which will create a drain on the 
claims processing system. VA must ensure that it both develops 
the proper tools to train new employees and adopts retention 
policies that encourage employee stability at its regional 
offices where benefits claims are processed.
    H.R. 5892 would require VA to redevelop this certification 
exam to test both appropriate VBA employees and managers and to 
include appropriate input from interested stakeholders in its 
development. It would also require the Secretary to contract 
with an outside entity to conduct an evaluation of VBA's 
training and quality assurance programs within 180 days of 
enactment.

             ANNUAL ASSESSMENT OF QUALITY ASSURANCE PROGRAM

    In a statement for the record presented to the Committee on 
Veterans' Affairs in December 2005, the GAO highlighted the 
lack of consistency and accuracy at VA's 57 VAROs. It has been 
widely reported that Regional Directors often make autonomous 
decisions regarding ratings, training, resource allocations, 
and production goals with very little oversight by the VA's 
Central Office. This persistent lack of accountability 
partially explains the great variances in disability 
compensation awards between the 57 VAROs.
    These findings were also underscored in the IDA report 
which found that ``in practice, regional offices are largely 
independent . . . and the quality assurance program is 
insufficient to promote consistency across regional 
offices.''\10\ The report came about as the result of an in-
depth analysis of variances among VAROS that was prompted by a 
series of articles in the Chicago Sun Times which revealed that 
Illinois veterans receive less disability compensation than 
other veterans around the country. The range of compensation in 
2003 for veterans with similar disabilities was $6,802 in 
Illinois to $10,852 in New Mexico. In 2005, the variance was 
$7,500 to $12,500.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \10\Institute for Defense Analyses, Analysis of Differences in VA 
Disability Compensation, August 2007, p. 37.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    This variability in ratings and awards is not a new problem 
for VA. In fact, the IDA found that historically the relative 
variability across states and VAROs has existed at or near the 
current level over the past 35 years. The Committee believes VA 
should focus on instituting the reforms set forth in the IDA's 
Report to promote uniformity in training and better 
accountability across its 57 VAROs.
    Currently, VA does not review a statistically valid sample 
of a veteran's claim within its STAR program. Moreover, the 
STAR analysis is usually conducted in-house by VBA managers who 
may be reluctant to report real quality concerns.
    H.R. 5892 would require the Secretary to contract for an 
annual quality assurance assessment that measures a 
statistically valid sample of VBA employees and their work 
product for accuracy, consistency, and reliability, and to 
track trends. H.R. 5892 contains language derived from H.R. 
5709, a measure introduced by the Honorable Zachary Space of 
Ohio, on April 3, 2008, that would also require the VA to 
standardize its data collection and capture more meaningful 
data for comparative analysis. The Committee believes that 
expanding this collection to include race, sex, and other 
pertinent demographic information would also prove useful for 
comparative and oversight purposes. Furthermore, the 
information gathered during an objective quality assessment 
would be used to inform the development of training and 
certification goals under section 105 of the bill.

    EMPLOYING MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS TO ASSIST EMPLOYEES OF VETERANS 
                        BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION

    A study conducted by the CNAC found that, among VBA raters, 
more than 75 percent of rating personnel indicated they would 
benefit from having an expert health professional available to 
answer medical questions and to assist in their understanding 
of a disease or progression of injuries. Rating personnel 
receive medically-informed training in order to decide and 
adjudicate claims, but the overwhelming majority do not possess 
medical backgrounds, education, or experience. Having on-hand 
access to medical professionals would likely improve rating 
accuracy and consistency.\11\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \11\Harris, Daniel, Findings from Raters and VSO Surveys. CRM 
D0015934.A2/Final. Center for Naval Analyses Corporation for the 
Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission. Alexandria, VA: May 2007. p. 
134.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    H.R. 5892 would require the Secretary within 90 days of 
enactment to conduct a study to evaluate the use of medical 
professionals as a reference resource to assist its personnel 
responsible for processing and adjudicating claims. This 
assistance would be in addition to any assistance provided by 
medical professionals of the Veterans Health Administration and 
would also include medical professionals who are not 
physicians.
    The Committee emphasizes the point that medical 
professionals are intended to serve as medical reference 
resources only; much as a medical reference guide might prove 
useful in informing decisions of rating personnel. None of the 
information provided by these medical professionals is to be 
used as a source to rate any disability or evaluate any claim. 
H.R. 5892 expressly forbids the use of medical professionals 
for these purposes. The Secretary would be required to provide 
a report to Congress within 180 days of enactment on its 
findings and conclusion. If the Secretary hires medical 
professionals pursuant to this Act, the Secretary must ensure 
that all rating specialists employed by its 57 VAROs have 
access to these medical professionals for reference purposes.

  REVIEW AND ENHANCEMENT OF USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AT VETERANS 
                        BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION

    According to VA, 12 percent of the more than 800,000 claims 
filed are appealed. The remand rate as of 2007 is more than 56 
percent and variances across the VAROs have generated 
investigations by the OIG (Review of State Variances in VA 
Disability Compensation Payments) and a study by the Institute 
for Defense Analyses previously mentioned. High staff turnover, 
improper training, lack of resources, and lost, missing, and 
unassociated paper records have waylaid the system. Increased 
use of information technology, such as rules-based systems 
decision support software and fully relational databases, will 
promote three desired goals: timeliness, consistency, and 
accuracy.
    VBA is in the process of reorganizing its Information 
Technology (IT) management and converting its legacy Benefits 
Delivery Network (BDN) system to the VETSNET platform. VETSNET 
is a group of applications that can perform payment, 
accounting, and workflow management functions. According to VA, 
as of January 2008, more than 850,000 veterans were receiving 
their benefits payment via VETSNET. The claims development and 
rating decision support component of VETSNET is fully 
functional at all the VAROs and the VAROs are incorporating 
imaging and electronic records into the disability compensation 
claims process.
    Despite these achievements, the GAO noted in March 2007, 
``VA continues to experience significant service delivery 
challenges including lengthy processing times, and inaccurate 
and inconsistent decisions.''\12\ GAO further concluded, ``VA 
lacks a consistent method for ensuring consistency of decision 
making within VA as a whole.''\13\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \12\GAO, Long-Standing Claims Processing Challenges Persist. GAO-
07-512T, p. 3.
    \13\Ibid, p. 6.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    VETSNET (unlike BDN) would allow for the use of decision-
support and expert system applications, but these have not yet 
been integrated with BDN. These tools are available today and 
the Committee expects the VA to complete VETSNET and its 
enhancements on a priority basis. VA indicated during testimony 
before the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial 
Affairs on January 29, 2008, that it intends to eventually 
process claims in an entirely electronic environment and would 
be employing a lead system integrator.
    The Committee is concerned that VA has only recently, over 
the past year, begun development of a strategic plan for 
systematically processing claims using an integrated electronic 
platform.\14\ The Committee received the results of the IBM 
study commissioned by VA in March 2008 to fully assess its 
claims processing system. The results were not surprising to 
the Committee and reiterated findings outlined in prior 
studies. Moreover, at least three private entities have 
apprised the Committee and VA of rules-based programs that will 
help process veterans' claims more efficiently and effectively, 
yet the VBA seems incapable of harnessing the value of these 
developments or other IT developments to improve its 
dysfunctional and outmoded claims processing system. The 
Committee firmly concludes that VA leadership should work on 
developing an internal, system-wide strategic plan in order to 
improve its claims processing outcomes, with appropriate 
organizational and individual accountability that employs 
rules-based IT platforms and decision-support software.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \14\Information discussed during a VBA briefing to staff of the 
Committee on Veterans' Affairs in January 2007, VA testimony before the 
Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance 
and Memorial Affairs hearing on The Use of Artificial Intelligence in 
the VA's Claims Processing System, January 29, 2008.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    H.R. 5892 would require the Secretary to develop a plan to 
implement comprehensive information technology upgrades, 
including web portals, rule-based expert systems, and decision 
support software within one year to enhance its claims 
processing capabilities and to rate claims within the time 
period VA identifies in its Annual Performance Report to 
Congress. The technology exists for VA to be able to assist its 
rating personnel in effectively utilizing key word classifiers, 
scanning and indexing data, and employing other information 
architecture platforms and software. Electronic health records 
and examination templates currently used by the Veterans Health 
Administration (VHA), and electronically transferred Department 
of Defense records, along with an online application system 
could be integrated to improve the quality and timeliness of 
claims adjudication. The Committee believes that based on 
current technology, VA should be able to manage a claim from 
the point of application to the payment of compensation in an 
integrated electronic environment. Currently, it falls far 
short of this goal.

         CLARIFICATION OF ``ENGAGED IN COMBAT WITH THE ENEMY''

    H.R. 5892 would amend section 1154(b) of title 38, United 
States Code, to ease the weighty evidentiary burdens VA imposes 
on combat veterans who may not have unit records or other 
documentation of exposure to stressful events, but whose 
injuries are consistent with the duties and hardships of their 
service and hence should be service-connected. This usually 
arises in the instance where a servicemember is separated from 
the assigned unit during the time a traumatic event occurs (for 
instance when a military police officer, a truck driver in a 
convoy, or other support personnel comes under attack while 
assigned temporarily to another unit).
    These evidentiary hurdles become even more critical for 
conditions such as PTSD where the injury to the mind is not 
visible and the documentation, due to the unpredictable enemy 
fire lines and nature of battle, as well as frequent separation 
from units, may not exist. The Committee finds that these 
veterans are not the outliers and too many are improperly being 
denied service-connected benefits based on VA's overly 
stringent interpretation of the presumption of exposure clearly 
outlined in section 1154(b) of title 38, United States Code. 
While the provision in H.R. 5892 is not intended to solely ease 
the evidence hurdles that veterans suffering from PTSD face 
when trying to prove service-connection for exposure to 
stressors, this may be its practical effect.\15\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \15\The most prevalent conditions that are service-connected by VA 
are auditory with almost 840,000 veterans receiving compensation 
followed by musculoskeletal and arthritis. PTSD is the sixth most 
common condition with 269,399 service connected veterans. In 2006, the 
Veterans Health Administration (VHA) treated 345,713 veterans with 
PTSD, which represented an increase of 27,099 over 2005 and included 
34,000 veterans who served after October 7, 2001. In June 2007, the 
Army reported an increase in suicide rates among its troops.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Incidences of PTSD are higher than anticipated in the 
current OEF/OIF conflicts and this number will likely only grow 
due to lengthy combat deployments. A recent RAND study 
concluded that approximately 18.5 percent of OEF/OIF veterans 
have PTSD or depression, which equates to approximately 300,000 
veterans; only 53 percent sought some type of treatment partly 
due to the stigma surrounding mental health treatment. PTSD is 
not unique to OEF/OIF veterans. We know that many veterans from 
other wars were also afflicted, many of whom, according to 
testimony presented to the Committee, often are undiagnosed or 
have been denied benefits.
    As noted, PTSD is the sixth most common service-connected 
condition with 269,399 veterans receiving benefits in fiscal 
year 2006. It is estimated that the societal costs (loss of 
productivity, treatment, suicide) of PTSD is $6.2 billion 
dollars. If all veterans and servicemembers who needed PTSD 
care were treated, it could save as much as $1.7 billion per 
year in societal costs and would cost only approximately $1,063 
per veteran according to the RAND study. Additionally, the CNAC 
found that those with mental disabilities, especially veterans 
with PTSD and who were also unemployable were below economic 
parity when compared to other disabled peers.
    Additionally, recent reports discussed during full 
Committee hearings indicate that the true number of veteran 
suicides could be as high as 1,000 per month, twice as high as 
for the general population.
    The Committee finds that the evidentiary requirements to 
prove ``engaged in combat with the enemy'' found in VA's 
procedural manuals, the M-21-1s, are unrealistic and 
inconsistent with corresponding statute and regulations. As the 
Disabled American Veterans pointed out in testimony before the 
Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs 
hearing on the draft legislation of H.R 5892 conducted on April 
10, 2008, ``[n]either the statute or regulation requires 
validation by official military records of an in-service combat 
stressor . . . [t]hese internal instructions defy incredible 
supporting evidence that an in-service stressor occurred as 
evidence that specifically documents personal participation in 
the event[.]'' The Committee also concurs with the Veterans of 
Foreign Wars' assessment, highlighted during this hearing, that 
the presumption afforded under Section 1154(b) for exposure to 
stressors should not require a combat medal to prove service-
connection for PTSD or any other condition.
    The Committee concludes that VA frustrates Congress' intent 
when the VA applies additional and unauthorized requirements 
contained in its internal M-21-1 manuals to determine 
eligibility for presumptions this provision of law is intended 
to afford combat veterans. H.R. 5892 would clarify the meaning 
of ``engaged in combat with the enemy,'' which the Committee 
believes is already explicitly defined both in statute and in 
regulations in order to ensure more proper grants of 
presumption of service-connection to those veterans who also 
served in a theater of combat operations during a period of war 
or in combat against a hostile force during a period of 
hostilities.

   EXPEDITED TREATMENT OF FULLY DEVELOPED CLAIMS AND REQUIREMENT FOR 
  CHECKLIST TO BE PROVIDED TO INDIVIDUALS SUBMITTING INCOMPLETE CLAIMS

    Pursuant to section 5103 of title 38, United States Code, 
VA must fulfill its duty to assist by providing the veteran 
with appropriate records and exams, and advising of incomplete 
applications and necessary evidence needed to process the 
claim. This also usually includes a medical exam, but not 
necessarily. The Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000 (VCAA) 
(Public Law 106-475) changed the burden of claim development 
from the veteran to VA. Prior to passage of VCAA, the veteran 
had the burden of proof in producing the evidence necessary to 
establish the cause and extent of the disability, usually 
medical evidence.
    VA contends that the implementation of VCAA notice 
requirements has significantly contributed to the time it takes 
to process disability claims. Based on VA's interpretation of 
notice requirements under VCAA, the processing timeline is 
extended by 90 days minimum (60 days after receipt of claims 
and an additional 30 if no response). Nonetheless, as 
recommended by the VDBC, the Committee supports efforts to 
further streamline the VCAA notice by possible implementation 
of an informed consent form when the claim has been fully 
developed and the veteran is satisfied with the evidence 
submitted before the 60-90 day window. This would likely allow 
well-developed claims to be adjudicated upon receipt, 
decreasing processing timeframes.
    Furthermore, the Committee finds that it is essential that 
VA develop a detailed checklist to include with its VCAA 
letters that it sends to veterans. The Committee is absolutely 
confounded by VA's resistance and reluctance to make this move 
peremptorily. VA complains of the additional requirements that 
subsequent Court decisions have mandated. However, the 
Committee believes that VA has failed to embrace the spirit of 
the VCAA by not providing veterans with useful information to 
assist in their claims for benefits. In fact, during a 
Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs 
hearing conducted on April 10, 2008, William P. Greene, Jr., 
Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, stated 
in response to a question posed by Chairman John J. Hall: ``In 
2000, I thought the message was clear that all VA had to do was 
do a checklist and run down and make sure the veteran 
understood what it was that they had to present. And that is 
the message that the court has been trying to convey over the 
last seven years and the Federal Circuit.'' The Committee 
wholeheartedly concurs in the CAVC Chief Judge Greene's 
conclusion.
    Allowing a veteran to state that a claim is ready to rate 
should reduce the amount of time it takes VA to adjudicate the 
claim since it will not have to wait the mandatory 60 days and 
potentially the additional 30 days for veterans to otherwise 
respond. Additionally, over the course of the development of 
this legislation, VA, with input from the House and Senate 
Committees on Veterans' Affairs, and in response to years of 
complaints from veterans and other stakeholders, voluntarily 
shortened the VCAA letters, simplified its verbiage, and made 
the waiver a more prominent part of the VCAA letter. The 
Committee commends VA for these efforts and encourages it to 
further embrace the goal of VCAA of better informing and 
assisting veterans with evidence and information needed to 
fairly adjudicate their claims.
    H.R. 5892 would require the Secretary to set a policy that 
would allow veterans to submit claims and declare them fully 
developed and ``ready to rate'' at the time of submission and 
receive a rating within 90 days. This section would also amend 
VA's duty to notify and require the creation of a detailed 
checklist for claims for specific requests of additional 
evidence. VA has certain duties to assist the veteran in 
developing the claim.

                     ASSIGNMENT OF PARTIAL RATINGS

    According to VA, in a hearing before the Subcommittee on 
Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs on February 14, 
2008, and in subsequent meetings with staff, it currently 
possesses the ability to issue partial ratings, although this 
authority is not expressly stated in statute. The Committee 
presumes VA believes it possesses this authority from section 
501 of title 38, United States Code. H.R. 5892, also informed 
by provisions of H.R. 1490, introduced by the Honorable Joe 
Donnelly of Indiana on March 13, 2007, would expressly grant VA 
that authority and require VA to issue a partial rating in the 
instances where a veteran has sustained severe injuries (50 
percent or above) and very serve injuries (100 percent) that 
can be promptly rated, while deferring other conditions that 
may not. VA and the Department of Defense have defined these 
conditions, and they include limb amputations, paralysis, TBI, 
severe burns, blindness, deafness, along with other radical 
injuries. Adoption of this section would help further ensure 
that those veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are not 
asked to sacrifice their family's financial stability and well-
being while recuperating from significant injuries. There have 
been too many cases of severely injured veterans with such 
injuries as amputations or paralysis that wait months or years 
for VA to adjudicate their complete claim as opposed to 
granting a rating for the parts of the claim that are 
indisputable and obviously attributable to military service.
    The Committee also further clarified the language in this 
provision so that VA can rate the indisputable injuries based 
solely on the Department of Defense medical records, which 
would be extensive for these categories of injuries. This 
provision is intended to force VA to provide benefits to the 
nation's more severely disabled veterans without unnecessary 
delay while allowing it to retain the discretion of whether a 
Compensation and Pension exam is necessary. As presented in 
testimony in numerous hearings before the Committee during the 
110th Congress, these processing delays cause veterans 
unnecessary emotional stress, financial burdens, and more often 
than not leave families in crisis.
    H.R. 5892 would in no way affect VA's ability to render a 
permanent rating for any claimed conditions and would not 
interfere with the processing of a veteran's claim, a finding 
consistent with staff discussions with VA's policy experts. Nor 
would it impede a veteran from being granted special monthly 
compensation, aid and attendance, housing or auto grants, 
clothing allowances, or vocational rehabilitation--in fact it 
would likely expedite the availability of those benefits since 
they are contingent upon a grant of service-connection.
    The Committee points out that a partial rating is different 
from a temporary rating, as a temporary rating is usually only 
assigned when a veteran experiences a prolonged 
hospitalization. A partial rating is also different from a pre-
stabilization rating, in that the latter is usually assigned 
only to veterans that have conditions that are still undergoing 
treatment. These distinctions were made to Committee staff by 
VA policy officials. A partial rating is different from both 
the temporary or pre-stabilization rating, in that the rating 
is permanent but can be amended when other deferred conditions 
have evidence to warrant further adjudication.
    H.R. 5892 would simply require VA to act more promptly for 
claims presenting undisputed severe and very severe injuries 
and in turn provide compensation more quickly where the 
service-connection link is indisputable. Whereas this provision 
uses the same scale for the partial rating as that outlined in 
the regulations for the pre-stabilization ratings, mostly for 
ease of administration purposes, its application is different 
and should not be confused. The Committee informs that this 
provision should be implemented by VA in a manner that provides 
the best outcome for the impacted veteran.

              TREATMENT OF CLAIMS UPON DEATH OF A CLAIMANT

    The provision in H.R. 5892 addressing the treatment of 
claims upon the death of a claimant is derived from H.R. 4084, 
introduced by Representative Honorable John J. Hall of New York 
on November 6, 2007, and H.R. 3047, introduced by 
Representative Doug Lamborn on July 16, 2007, which provide 
that in the event of the death of a veteran with a pending 
disability claim, an eligible dependent as identified under 
section 5121(a)(2) of title 38, United States Code, would be 
authorized to substitute for the deceased claimant at the point 
the claim had proceeded rather than being forced to re-file and 
restart the claim or appeal. This provision also would allow an 
eligible survivor to submit additional evidence for up to one 
year after the death of a veteran.
    During a hearing conducted by the Subcommittee on 
Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs on April 24, 2007, 
entitled, ``Helping Those Left Behind: Are We Doing Enough for 
the Parents, Spouses and Children of Veterans?'', the NVLSP 
apprised the Committee of the many instances where veterans die 
while awaiting resolution of a claim pending before the VARO, 
BVA, CAVC, or other reviewing court. This is due primarily to 
the fact that upon their deaths, survivors who are eligible to 
pursue a claim for accrued benefits are unable to continue that 
claim from the point it had progressed and essentially must 
restart the claim ``at the back of the line.'' Additionally, 
upon re-filing a claim for benefits, survivors also are 
currently prohibited from submitting any additional information 
to help further develop the claim after the veteran's death.
    The Committee finds this result both unfair and 
inefficient. Allowing substitution prevents unnecessary 
reworking of the same claim, allowing it to move forward from 
its current state of development to appropriate finality and 
saves families from facing unnecessary administrative hurdles.
    H.R. 5892 would also allow the dependent, in order of 
priority as identified under 5121(a)(2) of title 38, United 
States Code, to designate another qualified survivor to pursue 
the claim for accrued benefits. This would likely prove to be a 
very helpful provision for aged and ailing survivors of 
deceased veterans who might not otherwise pursue the pending 
claim for accrued benefits for these reasons. VA should 
interpret this section so that only one qualified dependent at 
a time is deemed eligible to apply as the substitute claimant.

 ANNUAL REPORTS ON WORKLOAD OF THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR 
                            VETERANS CLAIMS

    Currently the CAVC voluntarily provides an annual report to 
Congress which it also posts on its official Web site. H.R. 
5892 would mandate reporting requirements to Congress upon 
enactment to include the number of petitions filed, number and 
types of dispositions, number of oral arguments, number and 
status of pending appeals and petitions, summary of service 
performed by retired judges, number of decisions by a single 
judge, multi-judge and full Court panels, number of cases 
pending longer than 18 months, and number of oral arguments. 
This information should better aid the Committee in conducting 
more focused oversight of the backlog of pending claims and in 
better assessing the needed resources.
    The CAVC has indicated on numerous occasions to the 
Committee that it would like to establish a Veterans Courthouse 
and Justice Center Complex and expand the number of judges from 
seven to nine. The Committee applauds Chief Judge Greene's 
efficient and effective use of retired judges, but is concerned 
with its growing backlog of appeals. The additional reporting 
requirements would likely enhance the Committee's ability to 
determine the need for additional resources at the CAVC.

MODIFICATION OF JURISDICTION AND FINALITY OF DECISIONS OF UNITED STATES 
                  COURT OF APPEALS FOR VETERANS CLAIMS

    H.R. 5892 would modify the jurisdiction and finality of 
CAVC decisions on veterans' claims by providing the Court with 
additional discretion to decide all issues presented on appeal, 
except in the case of a reversal.
    Pursuant to section 7251 of title 38, United States Code, 
the CVAC has exclusive jurisdiction to review decisions of the 
BVA. The Secretary of VA may not seek review of any of the 
CAVC's decisions. The Court has the power to affirm, modify, or 
reverse a decision, or remand the case back to the BVA for 
further review, but it does not have the ability to review the 
ratings of disabilities claims. The majority of the cases 
decided are remanded back to the Board. This has seemed to 
impact the effectiveness of the CAVC in providing intermediate 
res judicata and the result is often an overly elongated 
appeals process for veterans' claims.
    In 2007, 4,644 new cases were filed with the CAVC, up from 
3,729 in 2006. With a Court currently comprised of seven 
judges, the average caseload is approximately 663 cases per 
judge. This makes it one of the busiest federal appellate 
courts, where the average hovers around 263 cases. During the 
same period, 53 percent of these cases received were filed by 
unrepresented, pro se veterans, a decrease from 63 percent in 
2006. Also in 2007, the CAVC decided 4,877 cases of which 1,666 
were dismissed on procedural grounds. There were 3,211 merit 
decisions, the majority of which, more than 2000, were remanded 
(some in part only) and 1,098 were affirmed.
    Currently the median time from filing at the CAVC to 
disposition is 416 days, up from 351 days in 2006. The average 
disposition time for a claim appealed to the CAVC hovers around 
five to seven years. The Court can hear cases by a single judge 
or in panels of no less than three judges. In 2005 the Court 
heard only 24 oral arguments, or one percent--the remaining 
cases pending were decided on brief, BVA decision, and the 
record available to the BVA. Since its inception, the CAVC has 
disposed of more than 25,000 cases. Currently, it receives 
approximately 300-500 cases each month. Pursuant to section 
7299 of title 38, United States Code, the Court has the right 
to recall retired judges for 90 days of service and as noted 
above has made impressive progress through use of this 
provision.
    The number of remands ordered by the CAVC concerns the 
Committee. While the Committee is aware that improved accuracy 
of adjudicated claims at the VARO and the BVA levels would 
significantly stem the need for the Court to remand the large 
number of claims, it also finds that the Court is not operating 
efficiently by remanding the majority of cases without 
addressing meritorious issues raised on appeal. The Committee 
does not accept the Court's judicial economy explanation for 
this high remand rate.
    Further, remanding a majority of cases mostly for 
procedural reasons without reaching the merits of issues 
presented is not in the spirit of Congress' intent in creating 
the CAVC. Before the Court's inception in 1988, the only means 
of appeal for a veteran was an appeal with the BVA, a VA 
entity. Veterans had no recourse for judicial review of rating 
decisions outside of the VA.
    Finding this system of no judicial review inadequate, 
Congress, after significant pressure from veterans service 
organizations, created the CAVC (created as the United States 
Court of Veterans Appeals). If the Court remands the majority 
of its cases on procedural grounds, it does not encourage the 
VAROs and the BVA to improve its accuracy, to inform of 
mistakes in interpretation of VA laws and regulations, or 
afford veterans a timely resolution of claims. As the NVLSP 
pointed out in its May 22, 2007, testimony before the 
Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs:

          The piecemeal adjudication policy adopted in Best 
        [Best v. Principi, 15 Vet.App. 18, 19-20 (2001)] and 
        Mahl [Mahl v. Principi, 15 Vet.App. 37 (2001)] may 
        benefit the Court in the short term. By resolving only 
        one of the issues briefed by the parties, a judge can 
        finish an appeal in less time than would be required if 
        he or she had to resolve all of the other disputed 
        issues, thereby allowing the judge to turn his or her 
        attention at an earlier time to other appeals. But the 
        policy is myopic. Both disabled veterans and the VA are 
        seriously harmed by how Best and Mahl contribute to the 
        Hamster Wheel.
          Moreover, the CAVC may not be saving time in the long 
        run. Each time a veteran appeals a case that was 
        previously remanded by the CAVC due to Best and Mahl, 
        the Central Legal Staff and at least one judge of the 
        Court will have to duplicate the time they expended on 
        the case the first time around by taking the time to 
        analyze the case for a second time.

    The Committee concurs with this conclusion. Section 202 is 
intended to encourage the CAVC to reach the merits of issues 
filed on brief, to stop the recycling of claims, and to provide 
a more timely resolution that veterans deserve on appeal and 
Congress intended for them to receive.
    The high percentage of remanded cases by the CAVC is not 
the only barrier to achieving appellate justice that our 
veterans face. In a statement before the Senate Committee on 
Veterans' Affairs, retired judges from the CAVC indicated that 
judicial review by the Federal Circuit has resulted in too much 
judicial review and contributed greatly ``to the intertwined 
problems of delay and backlog in finalizing decisions.'' With 
four levels of appeals (one administrative to the BVA) and 
three possible levels of judicial appeal the judges noted that, 
``this is just more justice than the system can bear.''\16\ The 
retired judges also noted that judicial review of one Federal 
intermediate appeals court by another is unique as the judges 
all have similar qualifications, backgrounds, nominations, and 
selection procedures; the difference being that CAVC judges 
have far more expertise in veterans' law.\17\ Further the 
retired judges have estimated that Federal Circuit Court review 
accounts for an increase of more than 35 percent in the CAVC 
caseload.\18\ The Committee finds that these assessments 
warrant further oversight and policy consideration, but H.R. 
5892 does not address these specific issues.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \16\Statement of Retired Judges, Senate Committee on Veterans 
Affairs hearing, S. Hrg. 109-694.
    \17\Ibid.
    \18\Ibid.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                Hearings

    On March 13, 2007, the Subcommittee on Disability 
Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing entitled, ``The 
Impact of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom on 
the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Claims Process.'' The 
following witnesses testified: Mr. Daniel Bertoni, Acting 
Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, 
U.S. Government Accountability Office; Ms. Linda J. Bilmes, 
Professor, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard 
University; Mr. Stephen L. Robinson, Director of Veterans 
Affairs, Veterans for America; Mr. Brady Van Engelen, Associate 
Director, Veterans for America; Mr. Patrick Campbell, 
Legislative Director, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; 
Ms. Ann G. Knowles, President, National Association of County 
Veterans Service Officers; Mr. Jon Soltz, Co-Founder and 
Chairman, VoteVets.org; Mr. Ronald R. Aument, Deputy Under 
Secretary for Benefits, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. 
Department of Veterans Affairs, accompanied by Mr. Michael 
Walcoff, Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations, 
Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans 
Affairs.
    On April 24, 2007, the Subcommittee on Disability 
Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing entitled 
``Helping Those Left Behind: Are We Doing Enough for the 
Parents, Spouses and Children of Veterans?'' The following 
witnesses testified: The Honorable Brad Ellsworth, on behalf of 
Ron Nesler, Caregiver of Adult Dependent, New Harmony, Indiana; 
The Honorable Tom Latham of Iowa; Ms. Susan Jaenke, Mother of 
Deceased Veteran and Guardian of Grandchild, Iowa Falls, Iowa; 
Mr. Matthew B. Heavrin, Father of Deceased Veteran, Redlands, 
California, accompanied by Ms. Barbara Jean Heavrin; Ms. Amy 
Clark, Spouse of Terminally-Ill Veteran, Bartow, Florida; Ms. 
Kimberly Dawn Hazelgrove, Widow, Lorton, Virginia; Ms. Rose 
Elizabeth Lee, Chair, Government Relations Committee, Gold Star 
Wives of America, Inc.; Ms. Patricia Montes Barron, Deputy 
Director of Government Relations, National Military Family 
Association; Ms. Christine Cote, Staff Attorney, National 
Veterans Legal Services Program; Mr. Jack McCoy, Associate 
Deputy Under Secretary for Policy and Program Management, 
Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans 
Affairs, accompanied by Mr. Thomas M. Lastowka, Director, 
Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Regional Office and Insurance 
Center, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of 
Veterans Affairs. Statements for the Record Included: Mr. Peter 
S. Gayan, Director, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation 
Commission, The American Legion; The Honorable Solomon P. Ortiz 
of Texas; and Ms. Priscilla Piestewa, Mother of Deceased 
Veterans and Guardian of Grandchildren, Flagstaff, Arizona.
    On May 22, 2007, the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance 
and Memorial Affairs held a hearing entitled, ``The Challenges 
Facing the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.'' The 
following witnesses testified: The Honorable William P. Greene, 
Jr., Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims; 
Mr. Bart Stichman, Joint Executive Director, National Veterans 
Legal Services; Mr. Robert Chisholm, Former President, National 
Organization of Veterans' Advocates; Mr. Brian Lawrence, 
Assistant National Legislative Director, Disabled American 
Veterans; The Honorable James P. Terry, Chairman, Board of 
Veterans' Appeals, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 
accompanied by Mr. Randy Campbell, General Counsel Group II, 
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
    On September 25, 2007, the Subcommittee on Disability 
Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing entitled, 
``Board of Veterans' Appeals Adjudication Process and the 
Appeals Management Center.'' The following witnesses testified: 
Mr. Barton F. Stichman, Joint Executive Director, National 
Veterans Legal Services Program; Mr. Richard Paul Cohen, 
President, National Organization of Veterans Advocates, Inc.; 
Mr. Carl Blake, National Legislative Director, Paralyzed 
Veterans of America; Mr. Steve Smithson, Deputy Director, 
Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission, The American 
Legion; Mr. Adrian Atizado, Assistant National Legislative 
Director, Disabled American Veterans; Mr. Eric A. Hilleman, 
Deputy Director National Legislative Service, Veterans of 
Foreign Wars of the United States; Mr. Arnold Russo, Director, 
Appeals Management Center, Veterans Benefits Administration, 
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Honorable James P. Terry, 
Chairman, Board of Veterans' Appeals, U.S. Department of 
Veterans Affairs.
    On October 9, 2007, the Subcommittee on Disability 
Assistance and Memorial Affairs conducted a field hearing in 
New Windsor, New York, entitled, ``Personal Costs of the U.S. 
Department of Veterans Claims Backlog.'' The following 
witnesses testified: Mr. Anthony Zippo, Director, Orange County 
Veterans Service Agency; Mr. Ned Foote, New York State Council, 
Vietnam Veterans of America; Mr. R. Michael Suter, Chairman, 
Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission, The American 
Legion; Mr. Alex Lazos, Veteran, Harriman, New York; Mr. John 
Rowan, President, Vietnam Veterans of America on behalf of Mr. 
Ted H. Wolf, Veteran, Pomona, New York; Mr. Eddie J. Senior, 
Veteran, West Harrison, New York; Christopher Ryan, Veteran, 
Ellenville, New York, accompanied by Ms. Angela Ryan; Mr. 
Michael Walcoff, Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Field 
Operations, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department 
of Veterans Affairs. Statements for the Record Included: Mr. 
Michael Tokarz, Legislative Counsel Member, The American 
Legion; and, Mr. Jerry Donnellan, Director, Rockland County 
Veterans Service Agency.
    On October 10, 2007, the Committee on Veterans' Affairs 
conducted a full Committee hearing entitled, ``Findings of the 
Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission.'' The following 
witness testified: James Terry Scott, LTG, USA (Ret.), 
Chairman, Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission.
    On November 8, 2007, the Subcommittee on Disability 
Assistance and Memorial Affairs conducted a legislative hearing 
on a number of bills introduced in the 110th Congress, 
including H.R. 3047, H.R. 3249, H.R. 3286, H.R. 3415, H.R. 
1137, H.R. 3954, and H.R. 4084. The following witnesses 
testified: Mr. Richard Daley, Associate Legislation Director, 
Paralyzed Veterans of America; Mr. Steve Smithson, Deputy 
Director, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission, The 
American Legion; Mr. Bradley G. Mayes, Director, Compensation 
and Pension Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. 
Department of Veterans Affairs, accompanied by Mr. Richard J. 
Hipolit, Assistant General Counsel, U.S. Department of Veterans 
Affairs; Paul Tibbits, M.D., Deputy Chief Information Officer, 
Office of Enterprise Development, Office of Information 
Technology, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and, Mr. David 
K. Schettler, Director, Communications Management Service, 
National Cemetery Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans 
Affairs. Statements for the Record Included: The Honorable Jim 
Langevin of Rhode Island; Mr. Raymond C. Kelley, National 
Legislative Director, American Veterans (AMVETS); Mr. Kerry 
Baker, Associate Legislative Director, Disabled American 
Veterans; Ms. Rose Elizabeth Lee, Chair, Government Relations 
Committee, Gold Star Wives of America, Inc.; Mr. Lesley Witter, 
Director of Political Affairs, National Funeral Directors 
Association; and, Mr. Ronald B. Abrams, Joint Executive 
Director, National Veterans Legal Services Program.
    On January 29, 2008, the Subcommittee on Disability 
Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing entitled, ``The 
Use of Artificial Intelligence to Improve the U.S. Department 
of Veterans Affairs Claims Processing System.'' The following 
witnesses testified: Tai Cleveland, GySgt, USMC (Ret.), 
Disabled Veteran, accompanied by Ms. Robin Cleveland; Mr. John 
Roberts, National Service Director, Wounded Warrior Project; 
Tom M. Mitchell, Ph.D., E. Fredkin Professor and Chair, Machine 
Learning Department, School of Computer Science, Carnegie 
Mellon University; Randolph A. Miller, M.D., Donald A.B. and 
Mary M. Lindberg University Professor of Biomedical 
Informatics, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; Marjie 
Shahani, M.D., Senior Vice President of Operations, QTC 
Management, Inc; Mr. Ned M. Hunter, President and Chief 
Executive Officer, Stratizon Corporation; Mr. John F. McGarry, 
Senior Vice President of Benefits, Chief Risk Officer Unum; Mr. 
Gary A. Christopherson, Former Senior Advisor to the Under 
Secretary for Health and Chief Information Officer, Veterans 
Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and 
Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs, 
U.S. Department of Defense; Ms. Kim Graves, Director, Office of 
Business Process Integration, Veterans Benefits Administration, 
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and, Mr. Stephen W. 
Warren, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Information 
Technology, Office of Information and Technology, U.S. 
Department of Veterans Affairs. Statements for the Record 
Included: Mr. Raymond C. Kelley, National Legislative Director, 
American Veterans (AMVETS); Mr. Kerry Baker, Associate National 
Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans; Mr. Steve 
Smithson, Deputy Director, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation 
Commission, The American Legion; and, the Paralyzed Veterans of 
America.
    On February 14, 2008, the Subcommittee on Disability 
Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing entitled, 
``Examining the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Claims 
Processing System.'' The following witnesses testified: Ms. 
Joyce McMahon, Ph.D., Managing Director, CNA Corporation; Mr. 
Michael McGeary, Senior Program Officer and Study Director, 
Committee on Medical Evaluation of Veterans for Disability 
Benefits, Board on Military and Veterans Health, Institute of 
Medicine; Mr. Daniel Bertoni, Director, Education, Workforce, 
and Income Security Issues, U.S. Government Accountability 
Office; Mr. Richard Paul Cohen, Executive Director, National 
Organization of Veterans' Advocates, Inc.; Mr. Ronald B. 
Abrams, Joint Executive Director, National Veterans Legal 
Services Program; Mr. J. David Cox, R.N., National Secretary-
Treasurer, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-
CIO; Mr. Gordon Erspamer, Senior Counsel, Morrison and 
Foerster; Mr. Adrian Atizado, Assistant National Legislative 
Director, Disabled American Veterans; Mr. Paul Sullivan, 
Executive Director, Veterans for Common Sense; Mr. Steve 
Smithson, Deputy Director, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation 
Commission, The American Legion; Mr. Gerald T. Manar, Deputy 
Director, National Veterans Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars 
of the United States; Mr. John Roberts, National Service 
Director, Wounded Warrior Project; Mr. Michael Walcoff, Deputy 
Under Secretary for Benefits, Veterans Benefits Administration, 
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Ms. Diana Rubens, 
Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations, Veterans 
Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; 
Mr. Bradley G. Mayes, Director, Compensation and Pension 
Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of 
Veterans Affairs. Statements for the Record Included: Ms. Linda 
J. Bilmes, Professor, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard 
University; and, Master Sergeant Kurt Priessman, Veteran, USAF 
(Ret.).
    On February 26, 2008, the Subcommittee on Disability 
Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing entitled, ``The 
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating 
Disabilities.'' The following witnesses testified: Dennis 
Vincent McGinn, VADM, USN (Ret.), Member, Veterans' Disability 
Benefits Commission; Lonnie Bristow, M.D., Chair, Committee on 
Medical Evaluation of Veterans for Disability Compensation, 
Board on Military and Veterans Health, Institute of Medicine; 
Dean G. Kilpatrick, Ph.D., Member, Committee on Veterans' 
Compensation for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Institute of 
Medicine and National Research Council; Jonathan Samet, M.D., 
M.S., Chairman, Committee on Evaluation of the Presumptive 
Disability, Decision-Making Process for Veterans, Board on 
Military and Veterans Health, Institute of Medicine; Joyce 
McMahon, Ph.D., Health Care Operations and Policy Research 
Center, Center for Naval Analyses Corporation; Mark H. Hyman, 
M.D., Presenter, American Academy of Disability Evaluating 
Physicians; Sidney Weissman, M.D., Member, Committee on Mental 
Healthcare for Veterans and Military Personnel and Their 
Families, American Psychiatric Association; Mr. Ronald B. 
Abrams, Joint Executive Director, National Veterans Legal 
Service Program; Mr. Dean Stoline, Assistant Director, National 
Legislative Commission, The American Legion; Mr. Kerry Baker, 
Associate National Legislative Director, Disabled American 
Veterans; Mr. Gerald T. Manar, Deputy Director, National 
Veterans Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United 
States; Mr. Bradley G. Mayes, Director, Compensation and 
Pension Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. 
Department of Veterans Affairs, accompanied by Tom Pamperin, 
Deputy Director for Policy and Procedures, Veterans Benefits 
Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Steven H. 
Brown, M.D., M.S., Director, Compensation and Pension Exam 
Program, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of 
Veterans Affairs; Patrick Joyce, M.D., Chief Occupational 
Health Clinic, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department 
of Veterans Affairs; Mr. Richard Hipolit, Assistant General 
Counsel, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and, Joseph 
Kelley, M.D., Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for 
Clinical and Program Policy (Health Affairs), U.S. Department 
of Defense, accompanied by Horace Carson, M.D., Senior Medical 
Advisor, Air Force Review Boards Agency (SAF/MRB), U.S. 
Department of Defense. Statement for the Record Included: the 
American Medical Association.
    On April 10, 2008, the Subcommittee on Disability 
Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a legislative hearing 
entitled, ``The Veterans Disability Benefits Claims 
Modernization Act of 2008.'' The following witnesses testified: 
The Honorable William P. Greene, Jr., Chief Judge, U.S. Court 
of Appeals for Veterans Claims; Mr. Kerry Baker, Associate 
National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans; Mr. 
Ronald B. Abrams, Joint Executive Director, National Veterans 
Legal Services Program; Mr. Steve Smithson, Deputy Director, 
Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission, The American 
Legion; Mr. Eric A. Hilleman, Deputy Director, National 
Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United 
States; Mr. Carl Blake, National Legislative Director, 
Paralyzed Veterans of America; and, Mr. Bradley G. Mayes, 
Director, Compensation and Pension Service, Veterans Benefits 
Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 
accompanied by Mr. Richard J. Hipolit, Assistant General 
Counsel, and Steven L. Keller, Senior Deputy Vice Chairman, 
Board of Veterans' Appeals, U.S. Department of Veterans 
Affairs. Statements for the Record Included: Mr. Raymond C. 
Kelley, National Legislative Director, American Veterans 
(AMVETS); Ms. Rose Elizabeth Lee, Chair, Executive Director, 
National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, Inc.; Mr. Richard 
Paul Cohen, Executive Director, National Organization of 
Veterans' Advocates, Inc.; and, Mr. Richard Weidman, Executive 
Director for Policy and Government Affairs, Vietnam Veterans of 
America.

                       Subcommittee Consideration

    On April 24, 2008, the Subcommittee on Disability 
Assistance and Memorial Affairs met in open markup session and 
ordered favorably forwarded to the full Committee H.R. 5892, by 
voice vote.

                        Committee Consideration

    On April 30, 2008, the full Committee met in open markup 
session, a quorum being present, and ordered H.R. 5892 
favorably reported to the House of Representatives, by voice 
vote.

                            Committee Votes

    Clause 3(b) of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of 
Representatives requires the Committee to list the record votes 
on the motion to report the legislation and amendments thereto. 
There were no record votes taken on amendments or in connection 
with ordering H.R. 5892 reported to the House. A motion by Mr. 
Hall of New York to order H.R. 5892 reported favorably to the 
House of Representatives was agreed to by voice vote.

                      Committee Oversight Findings

    In compliance with clause 3(c)(1) of rule XIII and clause 
(2)(b)(1) of rule X of the Rules of the House of 
Representatives, the Committee's oversight findings and 
recommendations are reflected in the descriptive portions of 
this report.

         Statement of General Performance Goals and Objectives

    In accordance with clause 3(c)(4) of rule XIII of the Rules 
of the House of Representatives, the Committee's performance 
goals and objectives are reflected in the descriptive portions 
of this report.

   New Budget Authority, Entitlement Authority, and Tax Expenditures

    In compliance with clause 3(c)(2) of rule XIII of the Rules 
of the House of Representatives, the Committee adopts as its 
own the estimate of new budget authority, entitlement 
authority, or tax expenditures or revenues contained in the 
cost estimate prepared by the Director of the Congressional 
Budget Office pursuant to section 402 of the Congressional 
Budget Act of 1974.

                  Earmarks and Tax and Tariff Benefits

    H.R. 5892 does not contain any congressional earmarks, 
limited tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits as defined in 
clause 9(d), 9(e), or 9(f) of rule XXI of the Rules of the 
House of Representatives.

                        Committee Cost Estimate

    The Committee adopts as its own the cost estimate on H.R. 
5892 prepared by the Director of the Congressional Budget 
Office pursuant to section 402 of the Congressional Budget Act 
of 1974.

               Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate

    Pursuant to clause 3(c)(3) of rule XIII of the Rules of the 
House of Representatives, the following is the cost estimate 
for H.R. 5892 provided by the Congressional Budget Office 
pursuant to section 402 of the Congressional Budget Act of 
1974:

                                     U.S. Congress,
                               Congressional Budget Office,
                                     Washington, DC, July 28, 2008.
Hon. Bob Filner,
Chairman, Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
    Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has 
prepared the enclosed cost estimate for H.R. 5892, the Veterans 
Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act of 2008.
    If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be 
pleased to provide them. The CBO staff contact is Dwayne M. 
Wright.
            Sincerely,
                                         Robert A. Sunshine
                                   (For Peter H. Orszag, Director).
    Enclosure.

H.R. 5892--Veterans Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act of 
        2008

    Summary: H.R. 5892 would increase the number of veterans 
eligible for disability compensation by modifying the 
requirements for eligibility. The bill also would require the 
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct several studies 
and complete several reports on various matters relating to the 
delivery of veterans disability benefits and the Court of 
Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC), and for other purposes. CBO 
estimates that enacting H.R. 5892 would increase direct 
spending by $60 million in 2009, by $1.5 billion over the 2009-
2013 period, and by $4.8 billion over the 2009-2018 period. In 
addition, CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 5892 would 
increase discretionary costs by $5 million over the 2009-2013 
period, assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts. 
Enacting the bill would have no impact on revenues.
    H.R. 5892 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector 
mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) 
and would impose no costs on state, local, or tribal 
governments.
    Estimated cost to the Federal Government: The costs of this 
legislation fall within budget function 700 (veterans benefits 
and services).

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                   By fiscal year, in millions of dollars--
                             -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                    Total  Total
                                                                                                     2009-  2009-
                               2009   2010   2011   2012   2013   2014   2015   2016   2017   2018   2013   2018

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           CHANGES IN DIRECT SPENDING

Estimated Budget Authority..     60    165    360    420    480    540    600    670    730    800  1,485  4,825
Estimated Outlays...........     60    165    360    420    480    540    600    670    730    800  1,485  4,825
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: In addition, H.R. 5892 would increase spending subject to appropriation by $5 million over the 2009-2013
  period.

            Direct spending
    To receive disability compensation from VA, veterans must 
demonstrate, generally through documentation in official 
records, that their disabilities are related to their service 
in the military. Veterans who have engaged in combat with the 
enemy face a much lower burden of proof. Those veterans' 
disabilities can be presumed to be service-connected if any 
type of evidence--verification from other members of the 
veteran's unit, for example--is consistent with the 
circumstances of the veterans' service. According to VA 
regulations, engaging in combat with the enemy means personal 
participation in events constituting an actual fight or 
encounter with a military foe or hostile unit or 
instrumentality. It includes presence during such events either 
as a combatant or servicemember performing duty in support of 
combatants, such as providing medical care to the wounded.
    Section 101 would expand the definition of combat with the 
enemy to include service on active duty in a theater of combat 
operations--as determined by VA in consultation with the 
Secretary of Defense--during a period of war. Many veterans 
cannot have their disability presumed to be service-connected 
because they cannot prove that they engaged in combat with the 
enemy. Section 101 would alleviate the evidentiary burden of 
proof of personal participation as long as the veteran could 
prove that he or she served in a theater of combat operations 
during a period of war.
    Based on data from VA, CBO expects that most of the 
population affected would be veterans seeking disability 
compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). VA 
reports that 50 percent of disability claims for PTSD are 
approved and that the majority of denials are because of lack 
of evidence of service-connection.
    In total, CBO estimates that enacting section 101 would 
increase direct spending by $4.8 billion over the 2009-2018 
period; those costs would include amounts for new accessions 
(newly approved beneficiaries), veterans currently on the 
rolls, and surviving spouses and dependents.
    New Accessions. CBO expects that implementing section 101 
would increase both the number of disability claims that VA 
would receive for PTSD, and the approval rate for such claims. 
Over the 2002-2006 period, VA received about 188,000 (on 
average) initial claims for disability compensation each year. 
About 80 percent of those claims were approved. Of those new 
accessions to the disability compensation rolls, about 15 
percent involved PTSD (about 20,000 per year).
    Based on data from VA, CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 
5892 would increase applications for disability compensation 
for PTSD by 20 percent and the approval rate for such claims by 
25 percent. Thus, CBO estimates that about 11,000 additional 
veterans would be eligible to receive compensation in 2009. Of 
those, CBO further estimates that 25 percent would apply and be 
approved for benefits in 2009--the remainder would be approved 
over the next two years--and that, on average, they would 
receive one-half of the annual benefit. Consistent with CBO' s 
baseline assumptions for new accessions, CBO estimates that the 
number of veterans who would be newly eligible each year would 
decline to about 6,800 by 2018.
    In 2006 (2007 data are unavailable), the average disability 
rating for a veteran with PTSD was 40 percent and the average 
annual benefit payment for a disability rated at 40 percent was 
$6,516 (or $543 monthly). Adjusting for cost-of-living 
increases, the annual payment for a veteran rated at 40 percent 
in 2009 would be about $7,080. After accounting for mortality 
and cost-of-living adjustments, CBO estimates that, under 
section 101, direct spending for new accessions would increase 
by $10 million in 2009, by about $770 million over the 2009-
2013 period, and by $3 billion over the 2009-2018 period.
    Veterans Currently on the Rolls. Section 101 also would 
make some veterans who are currently receiving disability 
compensation for other disabilities eligible to receive 
compensation for PTSD as well. Many veterans who are receiving 
a disability compensation payment are rated for more than one 
disability. The average rating for veterans on the disability 
compensation rolls in 2007 was 40 percent and the average 
combined rating--a combination of all disabilities for which a 
veteran is receiving compensation--for veterans with PTSD was 
70 percent.
    About 12,600 veterans who are currently receiving 
compensation, and who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and/or 
elsewhere in the war on terrorism, had disability claims for 
PTSD denied over the period from October 2001 through March 
2008, because their PTSD could not be verified as service-
connected. Of those, CBO estimates 80 percent (or about 10,000 
veterans) would be eligible for an increase in their disability 
payment under H.R. 5892. CBO expects that such veterans would 
see their disability ratings increase from 40 percent to 70 
percent.
    In 2006, the average annual disability payment for a 
veteran rated at 40 percent was $6,516 and the average payment 
for a veteran rated at 70 percent was $22,326--a difference of 
$15,810. CBO estimates that, in 2009, the annual difference 
between a 40 percent and a 70 percent rating would be $17,175 
and that it would increase with cost-of-living adjustments to 
about $20,800 by 2018. After also adjusting for mortality, and 
assuming a three-year phase-in of veterans re-applying for 
benefits, CBO estimates that enacting section 102 would 
increase direct spending for existing recipients by about $1.6 
billion over the 2009-2018 period.
    Surviving Spouses and Dependents. VA provides dependency 
and indemnity compensation (DIC) payments to the surviving 
spouses of certain deceased veterans. CBO expects that some of 
the veterans who would become eligible for disability 
compensation under H.R. 5892 would die over the 2009-2018 
period, leaving survivors who would be eligible for DIC 
payments. Currently, about 25 percent of veterans' deaths 
result in new accessions to the DIC rolls. Assuming an average 
age for a DIC accession of 63 years and accounting for 
mortality of surviving spouses, CBO estimates that about 30 
surviving spouses would receive a DIC payment in 2009, 
increasing to about 1,800 in 2018. The average annual DIC 
benefit payment in 2007 was $13,667. After adjusting for cost-
of-living increases, CBO expects the annual DIC benefit payment 
would average about $14,430 in 2009 and would increase to about 
$17,500 in 2018. We estimate that enacting section 101 would 
increase direct spending for surviving spouses by about $120 
million over the 2009-2018 period.
            Discretionary spending
    H.R. 5892 includes several provisions that, in total, would 
increase discretionary costs by $5 million over the 2009-2013 
period, assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts.
    Reports. The bill would require VA to complete a series of 
reports and studies for the Congress on varying topics. Those 
studies include: an overhaul of the disability compensation 
ratings system; the employee work credit system of the Veterans 
Benefits Administration (VBA); the work management system of 
VBA, which is designed to improve claims processing times for 
benefits delivery; an assessment of VBA's quality assurance 
program; the employment of medical professionals to provide 
expert medical advice in evaluating disability claims; a review 
of VA's information technology systems for processing claims 
and a comprehensive plan for improving those systems; and 
workload reports for the CAVC. Based on information from VA, 
CBO estimates that completing those reports would cost about $3 
million over the 2009-2013 period.
    Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation. Section 102 
would establish the Advisory Committee on Disability 
Compensation. The committee would provide recommendations and 
advice to the Congress and the Secretary about maintaining and 
periodically adjusting the schedule for VA disability ratings. 
Based on information from the General Services Administration 
on the cost of administering and staffing an advisory 
committee, CBO estimates that implementing section 102 would 
cost about $2 million over the 2009-2013 period, assuming 
availability of appropriated funds.
    Intergovernmental and private-sector impact: H.R. 5892 
contains no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as 
defined in the UMRA and would impose no costs on state, local, 
or tribal governments.
    Estimate prepared by: Federal Costs: Dwayne M. Wright; 
Impact on State, Local, and Tribal Governments: Lisa Ramirez-
Branum; Impact on the Private Sector: Daniel Frisk.
    Estimate approved by: Peter H. Fontaine, Assistant Director 
for Budget Analysis.

                       Federal Mandates Statement

    The Committee adopts as its own the estimate of Federal 
mandates regarding H.R. 5892 prepared by the Director of the 
Congressional Budget Office pursuant to section 423 of the 
Unfunded Mandates Reform Act.

                      Advisory Committee Statement

    Regarding section 5(b) of the Federal Advisory Committee 
Act, section 102 of the bill requires the establishment of an 
advisory committee. The Committee finds that establishing the 
advisory committee is the most efficient way of carrying out 
the policies involved.

                   Constitutional Authority Statement

    Pursuant to clause 3(d)(1) of rule XIII of the Rules of the 
House of Representatives, the Committee finds that the 
Constitutional authority for H.R. 5892 is provided by Article 
I, section 8 of the Constitution of the United States.

                  Applicability To Legislative Branch

    The Committee finds that the legislation does not relate to 
the terms and conditions of employment or access to public 
services or accommodations within the meaning of section 
102(b)(3) of the Congressional Accountability Act.

             Section-by-Section Analysis of the Legislation


Section 1. Short title; table of contents

    This section provides the short title of H.R. 5982 as the 
``Veterans Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act of 
2008,'' and the table of contents.

Section 2. Findings

    This section provides a number of findings related to the 
VA claims processing system.

 TITLE I. MATTERS RELATING TO MODERNIZING THE DISABILITY COMPENSATION 
              SYSTEM OF THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Section 101. Clarification of meaning of ``combat with the enemy'' for 
        purposes of service-connection of disabilities

    This section would expand the definition of ``combat with 
the enemy'' under section 1154(b) of title 38, United States 
Code, to include active service in a theater of combat 
operations (as determined by the Secretary in consultation with 
the Secretary of Defense) during a period of war; or in combat 
against a hostile force during a period of hostilities. This 
would be effective upon enactment of this act.

Section 102. Study on readjustment of schedule for rating disabilities

    This section would require the Secretary to conduct a study 
on adjusting the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) 
taking into standards, practices and codes in common and 
current use by the medical, psychiatric and disability 
communities. The study would take into account loss of quality 
of life and loss of earnings capacity and examine the nature of 
the disability. Furthermore, the study would examine potential 
disparities between physical and mental disability ratings and 
be adjusted to ensure parity, especially in regard to 
employability, as needed. VA would be required to consult with 
other stakeholders and the veteran service organizations and 
also take into consideration reports from previous commissions 
and task forces.
    The study would be required to be completed within 180 days 
after enactment. A report to Congress would be due 60 days 
after the completion of the study. A plan would be due to 
Congress 120 days after the report had been submitted that 
would outline alignment of the VA Rating Schedule with commonly 
used medical codes, would bridge gaps between the current 
schedule and current state of medical knowledge, would give 
priority to certain common disorders, ensure continuous 
updates, and ascertain transition. A timeline, not to exceed 
three years, for the plan would be required.
    Additionally, this section would require the establishment 
of an 18-member Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation 
of leading experts who would advise the Secretary on revising 
and readjusting the VASRD on an on-going basis and provide 
annual reports to the VA Secretary which would be required to 
be submitted to Congress within 90 days after receipt by the 
Secretary.

Section 103. Study on employee work credit system of Veterans Benefits 
        Administration

    This section would require the Secretary to conduct a study 
on its work credit system focusing on performance standards and 
accountability, objectivity, accuracy, consistency, and 
efficiency, timeliness, prioritization of the severely injured, 
and documenting lessons learned.
    A study report would be due to Congress not later than 180 
days after enactment of H.R. 5892 along with a plan for 
implementing a new system for evaluating work production. If a 
new system is not implemented, this section would require the 
Secretary to suspend the current work credit system.

Section 104. Study on work management system

    This section would require Secretary to conduct a study and 
report on the work management system of the VBA (currently CPI) 
focusing on increasing accountability, quality, accuracy, and 
timeliness of the VBA claims processing system. A report to 
Congress would be due within 180 days of enactment.

Section 105. Certification and training of employees of Veterans 
        Benefits Administration responsible for processing claims

    This section would mandate a certification examination of 
appropriate VBA claims processing personnel and managers. 
Development of a certification examination would be required to 
take place not later than one year after enactment of this act. 
Implementation procedures would be required 90 days later. In 
addition, a contract with an outside entity to conduct an 
evaluation of VBA's training would be required to evaluate its 
process, continuing education needs, and centralization 
requirements. A training study report would be due to Congress 
within 180 days enactment with annual reports and plans due 
thereafter.

Section 106. Annual assessment of quality assurance program

    This section would amend section 7731 of title 38, United 
States Code, to require the Secretary to contract with an 
independent entity to conduct an annual quality assurance 
assessment that measures a statistically valid sample of VBA 
employees and their work product for accuracy, consistency, and 
reliability and to track trends. An annual report to Congress 
would be required.

Section 107. Expedited treatment of fully developed claims and 
        requirement for checklist to be provided to individuals 
        submitting incomplete claims

    This section would require the Secretary to set a policy 
within 180 days of enactment for veterans to be able to submit 
claims and declare them fully developed and ``ready to rate'' 
at the time of submission and receive a rating within 90 days.
    This section would also amend VA's duty to notify under 
section 5103(a) of title 38, United States Code, by obligating 
the Secretary to create a checklist for claims specific 
requests of additional evidence. The checklist would need to be 
completed within 180 days of enactment and submitted to 
Congress within 60 days.

Section 108. Study and report on employing medical professionals to 
        assist employees of Veterans Benefits Administration

    This section would require the Secretary evaluate the need 
for the VBA to hire medical professionals (including those who 
are not physicians) to assist its personnel responsible for 
processing and adjudicating claims as a reference resource and 
report to congress within 180 days of enactment. This section 
requires the study to include a statistically significant 
sample of VBA employees to ascertain their views on such 
assistance. If hired by the VBA as advisors, medical 
professionals would not be permitted to contribute to the 
rating or to influence rating decisions. If implemented by VA 
this section would require that all VBA rating personnel would 
have access to such professionals.

Section 109. Assignment of partial ratings to qualifying veterans

    This section would amend chapter 11 of title 38, United 
States Code, to provide authority for the VA to provide partial 
ratings for qualified severely (50 percent service-connected) 
and very severely (100 percent service-connected) injured 
veterans who are 365 days or less from discharge from active 
duty and gainful employment is not feasible. A partial rating 
would be rendered on the most obvious conditions not requiring 
a medical examination while deferring other issues for which a 
rating is not immediately assignable until such ratings can be 
established.

Section 110. Review and enhancement of use of information technology at 
        Veterans Benefits Administration

    This section would require the VA to conduct a review and 
to develop a plan to implement comprehensive information 
technology upgrades, including web portals, rule-based expert 
systems, and decision support software within one year to 
enhance its claims processing capabilities and to rate claims 
within the time period VA identifies in its Annual Performance 
Report to Congress. This information technology capability 
would also include the integration of exam templates with the 
VASRD and bi-directional access to medical records from VA and 
the Department of Defense. In carrying out this review, 
information technology best practices and lessons learned by 
the Veterans Health Administration and other entities would be 
incorporated. A report to Congress with a plan would be due not 
later than January 1, 2009.

Section 111. Treatment of claims upon death of claimant

    This section would allow an eligible survivor to become a 
substitute claimant upon the death of a veteran in order to 
continue the claim and to submit additional evidence up to one-
year after death of veteran. Only one person at a time may be 
treated as the claimant to processing a claim to completion. 
This section would be effective upon the date of enactment of 
H.R. 5892.

   TITLE II. MATTERS RELATING TO UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR 
                            VETERANS CLAIMS

Section 201. Annual reports on workload of United States Court of 
        Appeals for Veterans Claims

    This section would mandate the chief judge of the CAVC to 
report annually to Congress, providing additional workload data 
on appeals, petitions, applications, dispositions, oral 
arguments and other measures.

Section 202. Modification of jurisdiction and finality of decisions of 
        United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims

    This section would amend section 7252(a) of title 38, 
United States Code, regarding the jurisdiction and finality of 
CAVC decisions on veterans' claims to give the CAVC greater 
discretion to decide all issues presented except in the case of 
a reversal. This section would apply to decisions of the BVA 
made on or after the date of enactment of H.R. 5892.

         Changes in Existing Law Made by the Bill, as Reported

  In compliance with clause 3(e) of rule XIII of the Rules of 
the House of Representatives, changes in existing law made by 
the bill, as reported, are shown as follows (existing law 
proposed to be omitted is enclosed in black brackets, new 
matter is printed in italic, existing law in which no change is 
proposed is shown in roman):

                      TITLE 38, UNITED STATES CODE




           *       *       *       *       *       *       *
PART I--GENERAL PROVISIONS

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


            CHAPTER 5--AUTHORITY AND DUTIES OF THE SECRETARY


                    SUBCHAPTER I--GENERAL AUTHORITIES

Sec.
501.  Rules and regulations.
     * * * * * * *

                   SUBCHAPTER III--ADVISORY COMMITTEES

     * * * * * * *
546.  Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation.
     * * * * * * *

SUBCHAPTER III--ADVISORY COMMITTEES

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


Sec. 546. Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation

  (a) Establishment.--(1) There is in the Department the 
Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation (hereinafter in 
this section referred to as the ``Committee'').
  (2) The Committee shall consist of not more than 18 members 
appointed by the Secretary from among individuals who--
          (A) have demonstrated significant civic or 
        professional achievement; and
          (B) have experience with the provision of disability 
        compensation by the Department or are leading medical 
        or scientific experts in relevant fields.
  (3) The Secretary shall seek to ensure that members appointed 
to the Committee include individuals from a wide variety of 
geographic areas and ethnic backgrounds, individuals from 
veterans service organizations, individuals with combat 
experience, and women.
  (4) The Secretary shall determine the terms of service and 
pay and allowances of the members of the Committee, except that 
a term of service may not exceed two years. The Secretary may 
reappoint any member for additional terms of service.
  (b) Responsibilities of Committee.--(1) The Secretary shall, 
on a regular basis, consult with and seek the advice of the 
Committee with respect to the maintenance and periodic 
readjustment of the schedule for rating disabilities under 
section 1155 of this title.
  (2)(A) In providing advice to the Secretary under this 
subsection, the Committee shall--
          (i) assemble and review relevant information relating 
        to the needs of veterans with disabilities;
          (ii) provide information relating to the nature and 
        character of disabilities arising from service in the 
        Armed Forces;
          (iii) provide an on-going assessment of the 
        effectiveness of the schedule for rating disabilities; 
        and
          (iv) provide on-going advice on the most appropriate 
        means of responding to the needs of veterans relating 
        to disability compensation in the future.
  (B) In carrying out its duties under subparagraph (A), the 
Committee shall take into special account the needs of veterans 
who have served in a theater of combat operations.
  (c) Annual Report.--(1) Not later than March 31 of each year, 
the Committee shall submit to the Secretary a report on the 
programs and activities of the Department that relate to the 
payment of disability compensation. Each such report shall 
include--
          (A) an assessment of the needs of veterans with 
        respect to disability compensation;
          (B) a review of the programs and activities of the 
        Department designed to meet such needs; and
          (C) such recommendations (including recommendations 
        for administrative and legislative action) as the 
        Committee considers appropriate.
  (2) Not later than 90 days after the receipt of a report 
under paragraph (1), the Secretary shall transmit to the 
Committees on Veterans' Affairs of the Senate and House of 
Representatives a copy of the report, together with any 
comments and recommendations concerning the report that the 
Secretary considers appropriate.
  (3) The Committee may also submit to the Secretary such other 
reports and recommendations as the Committee considers 
appropriate.
  (4) The Secretary shall submit with each annual report 
submitted to the Congress pursuant to section 529 of this title 
a summary of all reports and recommendations of the Committee 
submitted to the Secretary since the previous annual report of 
the Secretary submitted pursuant to that section.
  (d) Applicability of Federal Advisory Committee Act.--(1) 
Except as provided in paragraph (2), the provisions of the 
Federal Advisory Committee Act (5 U.S.C. App.) shall apply to 
the activities of the Committee under this section.
  (2) Section 14 of such Act shall not apply to the Committee.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


PART II--GENERAL BENEFITS

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


   CHAPTER 11--COMPENSATION FOR SERVICE-CONNECTED DISABILITY OR DEATH

                          SUBCHAPTER I--GENERAL

Sec.
1101.  Definitions.
     * * * * * * *

             SUBCHAPTER VI--GENERAL COMPENSATION PROVISIONS

     * * * * * * *
1156.  Partial disability ratings.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


SUBCHAPTER VI--GENERAL COMPENSATION PROVISIONS

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


Sec. 1154. Consideration to be accorded time, place, and circumstances 
                    of service

  (a) * * *
  (b)(1) In the case of any veteran who engaged in combat with 
the enemy in active service with a military, naval, or air 
organization of the United States during a period of war, 
campaign, or expedition, the Secretary shall accept as 
sufficient proof of service-connection of any disease or injury 
alleged to have been incurred in or aggravated by such service 
satisfactory lay or other evidence of service incurrence or 
aggravation of such injury or disease, if consistent with the 
circumstances, conditions, or hardships of such service, 
notwithstanding the fact that there is no official record of 
such incurrence or aggravation in such service, and, to that 
end, shall resolve every reasonable doubt in favor of the 
veteran. Service-connection of such injury or disease may be 
rebutted by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. The 
reasons for granting or denying service-connection in each case 
shall be recorded in full.
  (2) For the purposes of this subsection, the term ``combat 
with the enemy'' includes service on active duty--
          (A) in a theater of combat operations (as determined 
        by the Secretary in consultation with the Secretary of 
        Defense) during a period of war; or
          (B) in combat against a hostile force during a period 
        of hostilities.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


Sec. 1156. Partial disability ratings

  (a) Assignment of Partial Ratings.--For the purpose of 
providing disability compensation under this chapter to a 
qualifying veteran, the Secretary shall assign a partial 
disability rating to the veteran as follows:
          (1) In the case of a qualifying veteran described in 
        subsection (b)(3)(A), a rating of 100 percent.
          (2) In the case of a qualifying veteran described in 
        subsection (b)(3)(B), a rating of 50 percent.
  (b) Qualifying Veteran.--For the purposes of this section, a 
qualifying veteran is a veteran--
          (1) who has been discharged from active duty service 
        for 365 days or less;
          (2) for whom a permanent disability rating is not 
        immediately assignable under the regular provisions of 
        the schedule for rating disabilities under section 1155 
        of this title or on the basis of individual 
        unemployability; and
          (3) who has--
                  (A) a severe disability for whom 
                substantially gainful employment is not 
                feasible or advisable; or
                  (B) a wound or injury, whether healed, 
                unhealed or incompletely healed for whom 
                material impairment of employability is likely.
  (c) Examinations.--A medical examination of a qualifying 
veteran is not required to be performed before assigning a 
partial disability rating to the veteran under this section, 
but the fact that such an examination is conducted shall not 
prevent the Secretary from assigning such a rating.
  (d) Termination of Partial Rating.--(1) Except as provided in 
paragraph (2), a partial disability rating assigned to a 
veteran under this section shall remain in effect until the 
earlier of the following dates:
          (A) The date on which the veteran receives a 
        permanent disability rating based on the schedule for 
        rating disabilities under section 1155 of this title.
          (B) The date that is 365 days after the date of the 
        veteran's last separation or release from active duty.
  (2) The Secretary may extend a partial disability rating 
assigned to a veteran under this section beyond the applicable 
termination date under paragraph (1), if the Secretary 
determines that such an extension is appropriate.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


PART IV--GENERAL ADMINISTRATIVE PROVISIONS

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


           CHAPTER 51--CLAIMS, EFFECTIVE DATES, AND PAYMENTS

                          SUBCHAPTER I--CLAIMS

Sec.
5100.  Definition of ``claimant''.
     * * * * * * *
5109C.  Expedited treatment of fully developed claims.

                   SUBCHAPTER III--PAYMENT OF BENEFITS

     * * * * * * *
5121A.  Death of claimant.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


SUBCHAPTER I--CLAIMS

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


Sec. 5103. Notice to claimants of required information and evidence

  (a) * * *
  (b) Provision of Checklist.--In providing notice of required 
information and evidence to a claimant and a claimant's 
representative, if any, under subsection (a), the Secretary 
shall provide to the claimant and any such representative a 
checklist that includes a detailed description of information 
or evidence required to be submitted by the claimant to 
substantiate the claim.
  [(b)] (c) Time Limitation.--(1) * * *

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


Sec. 5109C. Expedited treatment of fully developed claims

  (a) Expedited Treatment Required.--The Secretary shall take 
such actions as may be necessary to provide for the expeditious 
treatment by the appropriate regional office of the Veterans 
Benefits Administration of any fully developed claim to ensure 
that any such claim is adjudicated not later than 90 days after 
the date on which the claim is submitted.
  (b) Notice of Required Information and Evidence.--Nothing in 
this section shall affect the responsibility of the Secretary 
to provide notice under section 5103 to a claimant and a 
claimant's representative of required information and evidence 
that is necessary to substantiate a fully developed claim.
  (c) Fully Developed Claim Defined.--For purposes of this 
section, the term ``fully developed claim'' means a claim for a 
benefit under a law administered by the Secretary--
          (1) for which the claimant--
                  (A) received assistance from a veterans 
                service officer, a State or county veterans 
                service officer, an agent, or an attorney; or
                  (B) submits along with the claim an 
                appropriate indication that the claimant does 
                not intend to submit any additional information 
                in support of the claim and does not require 
                additional assistance with respect to the 
                claim; and
          (2) for which the claimant submits a certification in 
        writing that is signed by the claimant stating that at 
        the time of signature, no additional information is 
        available or needs to be submitted in order for the 
        claim to be adjudicated.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


SUBCHAPTER III--PAYMENT OF BENEFITS

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


Sec. 5121A. Substitution in case of death of claimant

  (a) Substitution.--If a veteran who is a claimant dies while 
a claim for any benefit under a law administered by the 
Secretary, or an appeal of a decision with respect to such a 
claim, is pending and awaiting adjudication, the person who 
would receive any accrued benefits due to the veteran under 
section 5121(a)(2) of this title shall be treated as the 
claimant for the purposes of processing the claim to 
completion, except that such person may only submit new 
evidence in support of the claim during the one-year period 
beginning on the date of the death of the veteran.
  (b) Limitation.--Only one person may be treated as the 
claimant under subsection (a).
  (c) Designation of Third Party.--If the person who would be 
eligible to be treated as the claimant under subsection (a) 
certifies to the Secretary that the person does not want to be 
treated as the claimant for such purposes, such person may 
designate the person who would receive the benefits under 
section 5121(a)(2) upon the death of the person who would 
otherwise be treated as the claimant under subsection (a) to be 
treated as the claimant for the purposes of processing the 
claim to completion.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


PART V--BOARDS, ADMINISTRATIONS, AND SERVICES

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


     CHAPTER 72--UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR VETERANS CLAIMS

               SUBCHAPTER I--ORGANIZATION AND JURISDICTION

Sec.
7251.  Status.
     * * * * * * *

                SUBCHAPTER III--MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS

     * * * * * * *
7288.  Annual report.
     * * * * * * *

SUBCHAPTER I--ORGANIZATION AND JURISDICTION

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


Sec. 7252. Jurisdiction; finality of decisions

  (a) The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims shall have 
exclusive jurisdiction to review decisions of the Board of 
Veterans' Appeals. The Secretary may not seek review of any 
such decision. [The Court shall have power to affirm, modify, 
or reverse a decision of the Board or to remand the matter, as 
appropriate.] The Court shall have power to affirm, modify, 
reverse, remand, or vacate and remand a decision of the Board 
after deciding all relevant assignments of error raised by an 
appellant for each particular claim for benefits. In a case in 
which the Court reverses a decision on the merits of a 
particular claim and orders an award of benefits, the Court 
need not decide any additional assignments of error with 
respect to that claim.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


SUBCHAPTER III--MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


Sec. 7288. Annual report

  The chief judge of the Court shall annually submit to the 
Committee on Veterans' Affairs of the Senate and the Committee 
on Veterans' Affairs of the House of Representatives a report 
summarizing the workload of the Court during the last fiscal 
year that ended before the submission of such report. Such 
report shall include, with respect to such fiscal year, the 
following information:
          (1) The number of appeals filed.
          (2) The number of petitions filed.
          (3) The number of applications filed under section 
        2412 of title 28.
          (4) The number and type of dispositions, including 
        settlements.
          (5) The median time from filing to disposition.
          (6) The number of oral arguments.
          (7) The number and status of pending appeals and 
        petitions and of applications described in paragraph 
        (3).
          (8) A summary of any service performed by recalled 
        retired judges during the fiscal year.
          (9) The number of decisions or dispositions rendered 
        by a single judge, multi-judge panels and the full 
        Court.
          (10) The number of cases pending longer than 18 
        months.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


              CHAPTER 77--VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION

                   SUBCHAPTER I--ORGANIZATION; GENERAL

Sec.
7701.  Organization of the Administration.
     * * * * * * *

                    SUBCHAPTER II--QUALITY ASSURANCE

     * * * * * * *
7735.  Employee certification.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


                    SUBCHAPTER II--QUALITY ASSURANCE

Sec. 7731. Establishment

  (a) * * *

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *

  (c)(1) The Secretary shall enter into a contract with an 
independent third-party entity for the conduct of an annual 
assessment of the quality assurance program under this section. 
Each such assessment shall--
          (A) evaluate a statistically valid sample of 
        employees of the Veterans Benefits Administration and a 
        statistically valid sample of the work product of such 
        employees to assess the quality and accuracy of such 
        work product;
          (B) measure the performance of each regional office 
        of the Veterans Benefits Administration;
          (C) measure the accuracy of the disability ratings 
        assigned under the schedule for rating disabilities 
        under section 1155 of this title;
          (D) compare disability ratings and evaluate 
        consistency between regional offices;
          (E) assess the performance of employees and managers 
        of the Veterans Benefits Administration; and
          (F) produce automated categorizable data to help 
        identify trends.
  (2) The Secretary shall use information gathered through the 
annual assessments required under this section in developing 
the employee certification required under section 7735 of this 
title.
  (3) Nothing in this subsection shall require the Secretary to 
replace the quality assurance program under this section, as in 
effect on the date of the enactment of the Veterans Disability 
Benefits Claims Modernization Act of 2008.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


Sec. 7734. Annual report to Congress

  The Secretary shall include in the annual report to the 
Congress required by section 529 of this title a report on the 
quality assurance activities carried out under this subchapter. 
Each such report shall include--
          (1) * * *
          (2) information with respect to the accuracy of 
        decisions, including trends in that information; [and]
          (3) the results and findings of the most recent 
        annual assessment conducted under section 7731(c) of 
        this title; and
          [(3)] (4) such other information as the Secretary 
        considers appropriate.

Sec. 7735. Employee certification

  (a) Development of Certification Examination.--The Secretary 
shall develop a certification examination for appropriate 
employees and managers of the Veterans Benefits Administration 
who are responsible for processing claims for benefits under 
the laws administered by the Secretary. The Secretary shall 
develop such examination in consultation with examination 
development experts, interested stakeholders, including such 
appropriate employees, employee representatives, and managers, 
and appropriate public and private entities, including veterans 
service organizations and other service organizations.
  (b) Employee and Manager Requirement.--The Secretary shall 
require appropriate employees and managers of the Veterans 
Benefits Administration who are responsible for processing 
claims for benefits under the laws administered by the 
Secretary to take a certification examination.
  (c) Limitation.--The Secretary may not satisfy any 
requirement of this section through the use of any 
certification examination or program that exists as of the date 
of the enactment of the Veterans Disability Benefits Claims 
Modernization Act of 2008.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *