Congress Passes Duty to Assist Bill

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					Congress Passes 'Duty to Assist' Bill                             ment to disability benefits.
                                                                    Claimants also would be given the benefit of the doubt if

I n a major victory for disabled veterans and their families,
   the House and Senate have reached agreement on legisla-
tion (H.R. 4864) that would restore veterans' legal right to
                                                                  the evidence is equally on the sides of both the govern-
                                                                  ment and the veteran. And in cases where the VA seeks
                                                                  further government records or information to process a
assistance from the government in gathering evidence needed       claim, the agencies responding to requests for information
to prove their claims for disability benefits. As this issue of   would bear the costs.
DAVMagazine went to press, indications were that President          "Final approval of the measure reversed federal court ac-
Clinton would sign the measure into law.                          tions that have seriously hampered veterans seeking com-
  Known as the Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000, H.R.       pensation from the VA for service-connected disabilities,"
4864 was introduced by House Veterans'Affairs Committee           said DAV National Legislative Director Joseph C.
Chairman Bob Stump (R-Ariz.) and won                                               Violante. "Reinstating the VA's duty to as-
approval by the House on July 25. The mea-                                         sist veterans in obtaining records needed
sure was amended during consideration by                                           to substantiate their claims for benefits is
the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee to                                          one of the most important public policy
address some concerns raised by the DAV.                                           issues we've had to deal with."
  Under H.R. 4864, the VA is required to                                                               (Continued on page 24)
make reasonable efforts to obtain records                                          Left, John D. Rockefeller, IV (D-W. Va.) and
that would help veterans establish entitle-                                        Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).
                                           ing legislation in the Senate.               abled veterans have borne the deepest
National Adjutant                            Among others in Congress who sup-          wounds and scars of war. They have
(Continued from page 3)                    ported the memorial project are Senator      given so much more than their fellow
                                           Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, a Vietnam vet-       citizens who answered our country's
  The memorial legislation was ably        eran and former member of the elite          call. Therefore, America has a solemn
supported by House Minority Leader         Navy SEAL Team, who received the             obligation to assure that these men and
Richard A. Gephart of Missouri and was     Congressional Medal of Honor, and the        women will never be forgotten or ne-
admirably guided through the commit-       late Senator Paul Coverdell from Geor-       glected.
tee process by Senate Energy and Natu-     gia, an Army veteran.                          A national memorial honoring dis-
ral Resources Committee Chairman             I have always considered it a patriotic    abled veterans will serve as a lasting
Frank Murkowski and House Resources        duty to make sure the American public        tribute to the men and women whose
Committee Chairman Don Young, both         understands the sacrifices made by dis-      sacrifices have guaranteed our rights as
of Alaska.                                 abled veterans. And those sacrifices, to     a free and democratic society. And fu-
   High praise also goes to Senate Ma-     us, represent the price of freedom that      ture generations will be reminded that
jority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi    disabled veterans and their families con-    courage and duty and honor are not lost
and Minority Leader Tom Daschle of         tinue to pay every single day.               values and that America is forever grate-
South Dakota for their efforts in pass-      Throughout America's history, dis-         ful to her disabled veterans.

                                           ing claims for benefits. Under that rul-       "As it turned out, there was consider-
Duty to Assist                             ing, the VA was prohibited from provid-      able bipartisan support for correcting the
                                           ing such assistance until after a veteran    problem," he added. "The leadership on
(Continued from page 8)
                                           had established that the claim was well      the Senate Veterans'Affairs Committee,
  Under administrative rules dating back   grounded.                                    Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), and
to the 1920s and subsequent federal leg-     A number of other measures also            ranking Democrat John D. Rockefeller,
islation, the VA has had a "duty to as-    would have reinstated the long-standing      IV (D-W.Va.) are to be commended for
sist" veterans in gathering official       principle that had been a mainstay of the    their efforts to make improvements in
records and other necessary evidence to    claims process. These include a provi-       H.R. 4864 sought by the DAV"
substantiate their claims. However, the    sion in the Defense Department reautho-        "That assistance from the VA is ab-
courts have required veterans to first     rization sponsored by Senator John           solutely essential if veterans are to re-
submit enough evidence on their own        McCain (R-Ariz.), and S. 1810 intro-         ceive a fair decision on their claims,"
to prove that a claim is well grounded     duced by Senator Patty Murray (D-            said Mr. Gorman.
before being entitled to government as-    Wash.) and H.R. 3193 introduced by             "Once again, it was the extraordinary
sistance in obtaining evidence.            Representative Lane Evans (D-IlL).           grassroots efforts of DAV and Auxil-
  A 1999 Court of Appeals for Veterans       "Senators McCain and Murray and Rep-       iary members that helped persuade
Claims ruling in Morton v. West further    resentative Evans took a bold step toward    lawmakers to correct this injustice
eroded the long-standing responsibility    righting a wrong in the claims process and   before this Congress adjourned," said
of the VA to assist veterans in develop-   procedures," Mr. Violante said.              Mr. Violante.

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