A new law about Veteran's Affairs (VA) disability kicked in on November 9, 2000. It's the Veterans Claims Assistance Act (Act). It was a congressional reaction to a court ruling stating the VA couldn't assist with disability claims unless and until those claims were well-grounded. The Act says your claim need not be well-grounded in order to trigger the VA's duty to assist you with your claim.
Effect of the Veterans Claims Assistance Act
In the past, tens of thousands of claims were denied as not well-grounded. It was an easy way for the VA to get rid of claims without expending a lot of effort. The Act replaced the well-grounded test by requiring the VA to assist with claim development unless "no reasonable possibility exists that such assistance would aid in substantiating the claim."
The Act requires the VA, upon receipt of a "substantially complete application," to notify the claimant of any information or evidence needed to support the claim. The VA must also make reasonable efforts to help a claimant in obtaining that evidence.
Assistance in Obtaining Records
The law requires the VA to:
- Make reasonable efforts to obtain relevant, non-federal records the claimant identifies and authorizes the VA to obtain;
- Continue to try to obtain existing service medical records and additional records in control of other federal agencies (unless it is discovered that the records don't exist or can't be obtained); and
- Provide a medical exam and/or opinion if the VA finds the veteran has a current medical disability or symptoms and there is evidence to suggest the current symptoms or disability may be related to an event, injury, or disease which took place in service
Federal agencies are required to furnish relevant records to the VA at no cost to the claimant.
What Claims Are Affected by the Act?
The Act applies to any claim filed on or after the law's enactment date. It also applies to any claim filed before the date of enactment but not final as of that time. This means that the Act applies to all future claims and claims pending as of November 9, 2000.
The Act also gives individuals two years from November 9, 2000, to request the VA review claims denied as not well-grounded which became final between July 14, 1999 and November 9, 2000. These claimants are advised to immediately contact their representative (usually a service officer). Requests for review should promptly be filed with the local VA regional office.
Questions for Your Attorney
- The VA didn't assist me in making my claim. What can I do?
- I am not sure if the VA made reasonable efforts to assist me. What are reasonable efforts?
- What kind of evidence should I gather to help prove my claim?