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VA Claims: Disabled Veterans Community|Hadit.com

Presumption of Herbicide Exposure and Presumption of Disability During Service for Reservists Presumed Exposed to Herbicides

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is adopting as final an interim final rule published on June 19, 2015, to amend its adjudication regulation governing individuals presumed to have been exposed to certain herbicides. Specifically, VA expanded the regulation to include an additional group consisting of individuals who performed service in the Air Force or Air Force Reserve under circumstances in which they had regular and repeated contact with C-123 aircraft known to have been used to spray an herbicide agent (“Agent Orange”) during the Vietnam era. In addition, the regulation established a presumption that members of this group who later develop an Agent Orange presumptive condition were disabled during the relevant period of service, thus establishing that service as “active military, naval, or air service.” The effect of this action is to presume herbicide exposure for these individuals and to create a presumption that the individuals who are presumed exposed to herbicides during reserve service also meet the statutory definition of “veteran” (hereinafter, “veteran status”) for VA purposes and eligibility for some VA benefits.

Net Worth, Asset Transfers, and Income Exclusions for Needs-Based Benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) amends its regulations governing veterans’ eligibility for VA pensions and other needs-based benefit programs. The amended regulations establish new requirements for evaluating net worth and asset transfers for pensions and identify which medical expenses may be deducted from countable income for VA’s needs-based benefit programs. The amendments help to ensure the integrity of VA’s needs-based benefit programs and the consistent adjudication of pension and parents’ dependency and indemnity compensation claims. Lastly, the amendments effectuate: Statutory changes for pension beneficiaries who receive Medicaid-covered nursing home care; a statutory income exclusion for disabled veterans; and longstanding statutory income exclusions for all VA needs-based benefits.

Automatic Burial Benefits for Previously Unestablished Surviving Spouses

This final rule amends the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) regulation governing persons who may receive VA burial benefits on behalf of a deceased veteran. As amended, the regulation reflects VA’s current policy of paying an automatic burial benefit to surviving spouses who were not established in VA systems as a veteran’s spouse at the time of the veteran’s death. The intended effect of this amendment is to ensure that a veteran’s surviving spouse receives burial benefits to which he or she is entitled at the earliest possible time.

VA Claims and Appeals Modernization

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is proposing to amend its claims adjudication, appeals, and Rules of Practice of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) regulations. In addition, VA proposes to revise its regulations with respect to accreditation of attorneys, agents, and Veterans Service Organization (VSO) representatives; the standards of conduct for persons practicing before VA; and the rules governing fees for representation. This rulemaking is needed to implement the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. That law amended the procedures applicable to administrative review and appeal of VA decisions denying claims for benefits, creating a new, modernized review system. Unless otherwise specified, VA intends to make the proposed regulatory changes applicable to claims processed under the new review system, which generally applies where an initial VA decision on a claim is provided on or after the effective date or where a claimant has elected to opt into the new review system under established procedures.

Fiduciary Activities

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) amends its fiduciary program regulations, which govern the oversight of beneficiaries, who because of injury, disease, or age, are unable to manage their VA benefits, and the appointment and oversight of fiduciaries for these vulnerable beneficiaries. The amendments will update and reorganize regulations consistent with current law, VA policies and procedures, and VA’s reorganization of its fiduciary activities. They will also clarify the rights of beneficiaries in the program, and the roles of VA and fiduciaries in ensuring that VA benefits are managed in the best interest of beneficiaries and their dependents. The amendments to this rulemaking are mostly mandatory to comply with the law. They are also in line with the law’s goals to streamline and modernize the fiduciary program and process. These amendments by Congress, reduce unnecessary regulations, streamline and modernize processes, and improve services for Veterans. Furthermore, VA is unable to alter proposed amendments that directly implement mandatory statutory provisions.