New Law to Benefit Veterans

Congress recently passed a new law, The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejuene Families Act of 2012.  This law will go into effect 180 days after it is signed by the President and contains provisions that will prohibit protests at military funerals, help veterans in their disability claims process, and impose a review process for VA employees.

Section 2413 of this act will prohibit demonstrations and disruptions at cemeteries under control of the National Cemetery Administration and at the Arlington National Cemetery.  This prohibition extends to cover the 120 minutes prior to a funeral and the 120 minutes after.  The penalty for violating this federal law could be a fine or imprisonment.  Additionally, the law authorizes any surviving member of the deceased person’s immediate family to bring a lawsuit and recover damages, including reasonable attorney’s fees.  A final judgment in a criminal proceeding in favor of the United States will prohibit the defendant from denying the essential allegations of the criminal offense in any subsequent civil proceeding.

Title V of the act deals with veteran benefits and makes some changes to the disability compensation claims process, in an attempt to alleviate some of the delay and backlog that veterans experience.  Section 501 will require that new evidence submitted by a veteran during his appeal to the Board of Veteran’s Appeals, go directly to the Board for review.  Under the current process, evidence will initially go to the regional office for review before being transported to the Board.  This has been the cause for some of the delay in the claims process and this change may result in claims being decided more quickly.

Section 504 specifically allows for electronic notifications.  This again may help speed up the claims process. Another change to the law is the duty to assist.  Under current law, the VA has a duty to assist the veteran in obtaining records that will help substantiate his/her claim.  The new law will amend this and require the VA to make additional efforts to obtain records.  For example, the VA is required to make at least two requests for a record before informing the veteran that they were unable to obtain the records.  Lastly, the new law requires the VA to develop a plan that will regularly assess the competencies of employees who are responsible for processing claims for compensation and pension benefits.  While these changes are a step in the right direction, they probably do not go far enough to truly reform the claims process and will likely not result in claims being processed more quickly.