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Before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance & Memorial Affairs Regarding H.R. 952

March 24, 2009

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Lamborn, Distinguished Members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Disability Assistance & Memorial Affairs, and honored guests, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) thanks you for the opportunity to present our statement for the record surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) application of the provisions found in Title 38 United States Code 1154, the definition of “engaged in combat with the enemy” and its effect on processing claims for veterans suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Background: VVA reminds the Chairman and the distinguished Members of this Subcommittee that the Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) became effective in November 2000. Designed to codify VA’s long-standing practice of assisting veterans (at least in theory) in developing their claims for benefits, Congress promulgated this statute “to reaffirm and clarify the duty of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to assist claimants for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary…” In other words, the enactment of the VCAA in November 2000, in conjunction with its implementing regulations, was supposed to render mandatory assistance to all veteran-claimants upon submission of a claim, and in this way, it “defined VA’s obligation to fully develop the record…” And while the VCAA imposes a substantial duty on the VA to assist the veteran-claimant in obtaining evidence in support of a claim, it also obliges the claimant to aid in this process by providing “enough information to identify and locate the existing records including the custodian or agency holding the records; and the approximate time frame covered by the records…”.

VA fought proper implementation of the VCAA for several years, and only after losing in court did they move to at least in theory implement the VCAA according to the Congressional intent and eliminate the usually misapplied requirement to present a “well-grounded” claim before the VA would assist a veteran with his or her claim. Prior to passage of the VCAA, 38 U.S.C.S. 5107(a) stated:

Except when otherwise provided by the Secretary in accordance with the provisions of this title, a person who submits a claim for benefits under a law administered by the Secretary shall have the burden of submitting evidence sufficient to justify a belief by a fair and impartial individual that the claim is well grounded. The Secretary shall assist such a claimant in developing the facts pertinent to the claim. Section 5107 as revised by the VCAA eliminates the words well-grounded and simply states: CLAIMANT RESPONSIBILITY Except as otherwise provided by law, a claimant has the responsibility to present and support a claim for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary.

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