Rule gives veterans more help with benefits claims

By Kellie Lunney


Veterans will get more help from the Veterans Affairs Department when

submitting benefits claims under a final rule published in the Federal

Register Wednesday.


The rule, which took effect Wednesday, implements the provisions of the

2000 Veterans Claims Assistance Act, signed into law by President

Clinton last year. The law strengthens VA's current "duty to assist"

program, which requires the agency to help veterans gather service

records, medical records and other documents necessary to file a

complete benefits claim.


The rule directs VA to inform veterans of the information necessary to

complete their claims, inform claimants when important medical or

military service information is missing, provide medical examinations

for disabled veterans who cannot afford medical care and provide any

other appropriate and necessary assistance to veterans.


The agency must tell veterans if it cannot find pertinent claims

information, and give them the opportunity to submit personal evidence

for information the VA cannot obtain. When submitting claims, veterans

have a year to submit any additional evidence the VA requests.


The rule also allows veterans to reopen a denied claim by submitting

"new and material evidence," documentation that has not previously been

submitted to the agency and that serves to substantiate the claim.


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