Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Mr. President, today I introduce the proposed Veterans' Notice Clarification Act of 2008. This bill would require VA to issue regulations specifying the content of notices provided to claimants who seek VA benefits and services. Following a number of court decisions, VA's notification letters to veterans have become increasingly long, complex, and difficult to understand.
These notification letters must be simplified, as veterans, VA, veterans' advocates and outside review bodies have all recommended. The letters should use simple ordinary language rather than bureaucratic legalese and they should be focused on the specific type of claim that the veteran is bringing.
My bill would require different notice contents depending upon whether the claim is an original claim, a claim to reopen, or a claim for an increase in benefits. VA would also have the discretion to provide additional or alternative contents for notice if appropriate to the benefits sought. For example, an original claim for service-connected compensation may require different content than a claim for a specially adapted housing grant.
The notice required for original claims by the Veterans Claims Assistance Act, Public Law 106-475, should provide useful information based on the documents submitted to VA and the benefit sought. The information and evidence requested by VA should be relevant to the claim filed. For example, the information and evidence requested by VA for a claim for disability compensation and financial information concerning claims for pension benefits are wholly different. A veteran should not be made to submit information that is unrelated to his or her claim.
I believe that this bill, if enacted, will assist VA in developing appropriate criteria to implement the requirements of the current law. In addition, courts which review appeals from VA decisions should find it easier to identify errors in notification by measuring the notice against clear regulatory criteria.
I urge all of my colleagues to support this measure, so that veterans, survivors and dependents seeking VA benefits may be provided with clearer and more understandable notices.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.
May 15, 2008