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Proposed Rule

Finality of Decisions

Document Details

Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

Published Document

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AGENCY:

Department of Veterans Affairs.

ACTION:

Proposed rule.

SUMMARY:

This document proposes to amend the adjudication regulation concerning finality of the decisions made by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The intended effect of this amendment is to present the existing regulation in “plain language”.

DATES:

Comments must be received on or before December 24, 2001.

ADDRESSES:

Mail or hand deliver written comments to: Director, Office of Regulations Management (02D), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave., NW, Room 1154, Washington, DC, 20420; or fax comments to (202) 273-9289; or e-mail comments to OGCRegulations@mail.va.gov. Comments should indicate that they are submitted in response to “RIN 2900-AK18”. All comments received will be available for public inspection in the Office of Regulations Management, Room 1158, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday (except holidays).

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Bob White, Team Leader, Plain Language Regulations Project, Veterans Benefits Administration, 810 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20420, telephone (202) 273-7228. This is not a toll-free number.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

VA proposes to rewrite 38 CFR 3.104 in plain language. This regulation explains how a decision made by one VA field office affects other field offices as well as the VA Insurance Center. There is also a discussion of the circumstances under which VA may change a decision. The current regulation is located in subpart A of part 3. We propose to create new § 3.2120 to restate the current regulation. The new section would be located in subpart D, Universal Adjudication Rules that Apply to Benefit Claims Governed by part 3 of This Title.

Paragraph (a) of proposed new § 3.2120 informs claimants that when a Veterans Service Center makes a decision, the claimant is informed and given appeal rights. That decision is then binding on all other Veterans Service Centers. There are three exceptions to this general rule. The specific conditions under which a decision can be changed, based on the same evidence, are listed in paragraphs (a)(1) through (a)(3). Paragraphs (a)(1) and (a)(2) are restatements of the exceptions currently found in § 3.104(a). Paragraph (a)(3) incorporates new § 3.2600, Review of benefit claims decisions.

Proposed paragraph (b) of new § 3.2120 lists types of VA decisions that are made by both Veterans Service Centers and the VA Insurance Center. For clarity, we have added some examples of “domestic relations” issues. It explains that a decision by one Center is binding on the other Centers, as long as the facts of the case have not changed, and the instructions and criteria used to make the decision have not changed. The only exception is if VA determines the decision was based on a clear and unmistakable error, since VA will revise such decisions. This is a restatement of § 3.104(b).

This rulemaking reflects VA's goal of making government more responsive, accessible, and comprehensible to the public. The Plain Language Regulations Project was developed as a long-term comprehensive project to reorganize and rewrite in plain language the Start Printed Page 53566adjudication regulations in part 3 of title 38, Code of Federal Regulations. This proposed rule is part of a series of proposed revisions to those regulations.

Unfunded Mandates

The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, Public Law 104-4, March 22, 1995, requires (in section 202) that agencies prepare an assessment of anticipated costs and benefits before developing any rule that may result in an expenditure by State, local, or tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the private sector of $100 million or more in any given year. This proposed rule will have no consequential effect on State, local, or tribal governments.

Paperwork Reduction Act

This document contains no provisions constituting a collection of information under the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 3501-3520).

Regulatory Flexibility Act

The Secretary certifies that the adoption of the proposed rule would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities as they are defined in the Regulatory Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. 601-612. This proposed rule does not directly affect any small entities. Only VA beneficiaries could be directly affected. Therefore, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 605(b), this amendment is exempt from the initial and final regulatory flexibility analysis requirements of sections 603 and 604.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Program Numbers

The catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance program numbers for this proposal are 64.100, 64.101, 64.104, 64.105, 64.109, 64.110, and 64.127.

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List of Subjects in 38 CFR Part 3

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Approved: October 12, 2001.

Anthony J. Principi,

Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

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For the reasons set forth in the preamble, VA proposes to amend 38 CFR part 3 as follows:

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PART 3—ADJUDICATION

Subpart A—Pension, Compensation, and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

1. The authority citation for part 3, subpart A, continues to read as follows:

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Authority: 38 U.S.C. 501(a), unless otherwise noted.

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[Removed]

2. Section 3.104 is removed.

Subpart D—Universal Adjudication Rules That Apply to Benefit Claims Governed by Part 3 of This Title

3. The authority citation for part 3, subpart D, continues to read as follows:

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Authority: 38 U.S.C. 501(a), unless otherwise noted. 4. New § 3.2120 is added to read as follows:

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When do VA benefit decisions become binding?

(a) When a claim is decided, and the Veterans Service Center sends the claimant written notification of that decision along with information about appeal rights, the decision is binding on all Veterans Service Centers and cannot be changed, based on the evidence in file at the time the Center notified the claimant, except:

(1) Through an appellate decision by the Board of Veterans' Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, or the U.S. Supreme Court; or

(2) Under § 3.105, Revision of decisions; or

(3) Under § 3.2600, Review of benefit claims decisions.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 502, 511, 5104, 5109A)

(b) Types of decisions made by both Veterans Service Centers and the Insurance Center are listed in paragraphs (b)(1) through (b)(7) of this section. A decision of a Veterans Service Center or the Insurance Center on one of these issues is binding on all other Centers, unless the decision was the result of clear and unmistakable error. Absent such error, the issues decided cannot be reconsidered by a Veterans Service Center or the Insurance Center, if the later decision would require application of the same instructions or criteria and would be based on the same facts. The types of issues to which this paragraph (b) applies are:

(1) Line of duty;

(2) Character of discharge;

(3) Relationship;

(4) Dependency;

(5) Domestic relations issues such as marriage, divorce, adoption and child custody and support;

(6) Homicide; and

(7) Findings of fact of death or presumption of death.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 511)

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[FR Doc. 01-26558 Filed 10-22-01; 8:45 am]

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