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Rule

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program-Periods of Eligibility

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Department of Veterans Affairs.

ACTION:

Final rule.

SUMMARY:

This document adopts without change the proposed rule published in the Federal Register on March 9, 2009, amending regulations of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concerning periods of eligibility applicable to VA's provision of Start Printed Page 3166Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment benefits and services. The amendments clarify program requirements, interpret and incorporate new statutory requirements, and make clarifying non-substantive changes.

DATES:

Effective Date: This final rule is effective February 19, 2010.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Alvin Bauman, Senior Policy Analyst, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service (28), Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration, 810 Vermont Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20420, (202) 461-9613.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

On March 9, 2009, VA published a proposed rule in the Federal Register (74 FR 9975). We proposed to amend VA's regulations in 38 CFR Part 21, Subpart A—Vocational Rehabilitation Under 38 U.S.C. Chapter 31. The amendments in the proposed rule concerned periods of eligibility applicable to VA's provision of Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) benefits and services.

VA provided a 60-day comment period for the proposed rule that ended May 8, 2009. We received no comments. Based on the rationale set forth in the proposed rule, we are adopting the provisions of the proposed rule as a final rule without change.

Specifically, in 38 CFR 21.41, we are clarifying the term “basic period of eligibility.” We are revising § 21.42 to clarify who is authorized to determine that a veteran's participation in a vocational rehabilitation program is reasonably feasible and when a basic period of eligibility would begin or resume. We are revising § 21.44 to more clearly state the length of time that an extension of the basic period of eligibility for a veteran with a serious employment handicap may be granted. Section 21.45 is being revised to clearly state the length of extension of the basic period of eligibility for a veteran in a program of independent living services. Finally, we are adding a new § 21.46 to reflect and interpret an amendment to 38 U.S.C. 3103 that extends the period of eligibility for a veteran who VA determines “was prevented from participating” in a vocational rehabilitation program because the veteran was recalled to active duty.

Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995

This document contains no provisions constituting a collection of information under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501-3521).

Unfunded Mandates

The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 requires, at 2 U.S.C. 1532, that agencies prepare an assessment of anticipated costs and benefits before issuing any rule that may result in the expenditure by State, local, and tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the private sector, of $100 million or more (adjusted annually for inflation) in any year. This final rule will have no such effect on State, local, and tribal governments, or on the private sector.

Executive Order 12866

Executive Order 12866 directs agencies to assess all costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives and, when regulation is necessary, to select regulatory approaches that maximize net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, public health and safety, and other advantages; distributive impacts; and equity). The Executive Order classifies a regulatory action as a “significant regulatory action,” requiring review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) unless OMB waives such review, if it is a regulatory action that is likely to result in a rule that may: (1) Have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more or adversely affect in a material way the economy, a sector of the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or State, local, or tribal governments or communities; (2) create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with an action taken or planned by another agency; (3) materially alter the budgetary impact of entitlements, grants, user fees, or loan programs or the rights and obligations of recipients thereof; or (4) raise novel legal or policy issues arising out of legal mandates, the President's priorities, or the principles set forth in the Executive Order.

The economic, interagency, budgetary, legal, and policy implications of this final rule have been examined and it has been determined not to be a significant regulatory action under Executive Order 12866.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

The Secretary hereby certifies that this final rule will 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 final rule will not affect any small entities. Only individuals will be affected. Therefore, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 605(b), this final rule is exempt from the initial and final regulatory flexibility analysis requirements of sections 603 and 604.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance

The program that this final rule will affect has the following Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance number and title: 64.116, Vocational Rehabilitation for Disabled Veterans.

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List of Subjects in 38 CFR Part 21

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Approved: December 8, 2009.

John R. Gingrich,

Chief of Staff, Department of Veterans Affairs.

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For the reasons set forth in the preamble, VA amends

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PART 21—VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION AND EDUCATION

Subpart A—Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Under 38 U.S.C. Chapter 31

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1. Revise the authority citation for part 21, subpart A to read as follows:

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Authority: 38 U.S.C. 501(a), chs. 18, 31, and as noted in specific sections.

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2. Revise the subpart A heading as set forth above.

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3. Revise §§ 21.41, 21.42, 21.44, and 21.45 to read as follows:

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Basic period of eligibility.

(a) Time limit for eligibility to receive vocational rehabilitation. (1) For purposes of §§ 21.41 through 21.46, the term basic period of eligibility means the 12-year period beginning on the date of a veteran's discharge or release from his or her last period of active military, naval, or air service, and ending on the date that is 12 years from the veteran's discharge or release date, but the beginning date may be deferred or the ending date extended under the sections referred to in paragraph (b) of this section. (See §§ 21.70 through 21.79 concerning duration of rehabilitation programs.)

(2) Except as provided in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section, the period during which an individual may receive a program of vocational rehabilitation Start Printed Page 3167benefits and services under 38 U.S.C. chapter 31 is limited to his or her basic period of eligibility.

(b) Deferral and extension of the basic period of eligibility. VA may defer the beginning date of a veteran's basic period of eligibility under § 21.42. VA may extend the ending date of a veteran's basic period of eligibility under § 21.42 (extension due to medical condition); § 21.44 (extension for a veteran with a serious employment handicap), § 21.45 (extension during a program of independent living services and assistance), and § 21.46 (extension for a veteran recalled to active duty).

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3103)

(c) Servicemember entitled to vocational rehabilitation services and assistance before discharge. The basic period of eligibility for a servicemember who is entitled to vocational rehabilitation services and assistance under 38 U.S.C. chapter 31 for a period before discharge does not run while the servicemember remains on active duty, but begins on the date of discharge from the active military, naval, or air service. The period of eligibility requirements of this section are not applicable to provision of vocational rehabilitation services and assistance under chapter 31 during active duty.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3102, 3103)
Deferral or extension of the basic period of eligibility.

The basic period of eligibility does not run as long as any of the following reasons prevents the veteran from commencing or continuing a vocational rehabilitation program:

(a) Qualifying compensable service-connected disability(ies) not established. The basic period of eligibility does not commence until the day VA notifies a veteran of a rating determination by VA that the veteran has a qualifying compensable service-connected disability under § 21.40.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3103(b)(3))

(b) Character of discharge is a bar to benefits.

(1) The basic period of eligibility does not commence until the veteran meets the requirement of a discharge or release under conditions other than dishonorable. (For provisions regarding character of discharge, see § 3.12 of this chapter.)

(2) If VA has considered a veteran's character of discharge to be a bar to benefits, the basic period of eligibility commences only when one of the following happens:

(i) An appropriate authority changes the character of discharge or release; or

(ii) VA determines that the discharge or release was under conditions other than dishonorable or that the discharge or release was, but no longer is, a bar to benefits.

(3) If there is a change in the character of discharge, or the discharge or release otherwise is determined, as provided in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, not to be a bar to benefits, the beginning date of the basic period of eligibility will be the effective date of the change or VA determination.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3103(b)(2))

(c) Commencement or continuation of participation prevented by medical condition(s).

(1) The basic period of eligibility does not run during any period when a veteran's participation in a vocational rehabilitation program is determined to be infeasible for 30 days or more because of any medical condition(s) of the veteran, including the disabling effects of chronic alcoholism (see paragraphs (c)(2) through (c)(5) of this section).

(2) For purposes of this section, the term disabling effects of chronic alcoholism means alcohol-induced physical or mental disorders or both, such as habitual intoxication, withdrawal, delirium, amnesia, dementia, and other like manifestations that:

(i) Have been diagnosed as manifestations of alcohol dependency or chronic alcohol abuse; and

(ii) Have been determined to prevent the affected veteran from beginning or continuing in a program of vocational rehabilitation and employment.

(3) A diagnosis of alcoholism, chronic alcoholism, alcohol dependency, or chronic alcohol abuse, in and of itself, does not satisfy the definition of disabling effects of chronic alcoholism.

(4) Injuries sustained by a veteran as a proximate and immediate result of activity undertaken by the veteran while physically or mentally unqualified to do so due to alcoholic intoxication are not considered disabling effects of chronic alcoholism. An injury itself, however, may prevent commencement or continuation of a rehabilitation program.

(5) For purposes of this section, after November 17, 1988, the disabling effects of chronic alcoholism do not constitute willful misconduct. See 38 U.S.C. 105(c).

(6) If the basic period of eligibility is delayed or interrupted under this paragraph (c) due to any medical condition(s) of the veteran, it will begin or resume on the date a Counseling Psychologist (CP) or Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) notifies the veteran in writing that the CP or VRC has determined, based on the evidence of record, that participation in a vocational rehabilitation program is reasonably feasible for the veteran.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3103(b)(1))
Extension of the basic period of eligibility for a veteran with a serious employment handicap.

(a) Conditions for extension. A Counseling Psychologist (CP) or Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) may extend the basic period of eligibility of a veteran with a serious employment handicap when the veteran's current employment handicap and need for rehabilitation services and assistance necessitate an extension under the following conditions:

(1) Not rehabilitated to the point of employability. The veteran has not been rehabilitated to the point of employability; or

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3103(c))

(2) Rehabilitated to the point of employability. The veteran was previously declared rehabilitated to the point of employability, but currently meets one of the following three conditions:

(i) One or more of the veteran's service-connected disabilities has worsened, preventing the veteran from working in the occupation for which he or she trained, or in a related occupation;

(ii) The veteran's current employment handicap and capabilities clearly show that the occupation for which the veteran previously trained is currently unsuitable; or

(iii) The occupational requirements in the occupation for which the veteran trained have changed to such an extent that additional services are necessary to enable the veteran to work in that occupation, or in a related field.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3103(c))

(b) Length of eligibility extension. For a veteran with a serious employment handicap, a CP or VRC may extend the basic period of eligibility for such additional period as the CP or VRC determines is needed for the veteran to accomplish the purposes of his or her individualized rehabilitation program.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3103(c))
Extending the period of eligibility for a program of independent living beyond basic period of eligibility.

A Counseling Psychologist (CP) or Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) may extend the period of eligibility for a veteran's program of Start Printed Page 3168independent living services beyond the veteran's basic period of eligibility if the CP or VRC determines that an extension is necessary for the veteran to achieve maximum independence in daily living. The extension may be for such period as the CP or VRC determines is needed for the veteran to achieve the goals of his or her program of independent living. (See § 21.76(b) concerning duration of independent living services.)

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3103(d))
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4. Add § 21.46 to read as follows:

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Veteran ordered to active duty; extension of basic period of eligibility.

If VA determines that a veteran is prevented from participating in, or continuing in, a program of vocational rehabilitation as a result of being ordered to active duty under 10 U.S.C. 688, 12301(a), 12301(d), 12301(g), 12302, or 12304, the veteran's basic period of eligibility will be extended by the length of time the veteran serves on active duty plus 4 months.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3103(e); sec. 308(h), Pub. L. 107-330, 116 Stat. 2829)
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[FR Doc. 2010-879 Filed 1-19-10; 8:45 am]

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