38 U.S. Code § 5103A - Duty to assist claimants

(a) Duty To Assist.—
(1) The Secretary shall make reasonable efforts to assist a claimant in obtaining evidence necessary to substantiate the claimant’s claim for a benefit under a law administered by the Secretary.
(2) The Secretary is not required to provide assistance to a claimant under this section if no reasonable possibility exists that such assistance would aid in substantiating the claim.
(3) The Secretary may defer providing assistance under this section pending the submission by the claimant of essential information missing from the claimant’s application.
(b) Assistance in Obtaining Private Records.—
(1) As part of the assistance provided under subsection (a), the Secretary shall make reasonable efforts to obtain relevant private records that the claimant adequately identifies to the Secretary.
(2)
(A) Whenever the Secretary, after making such reasonable efforts, is unable to obtain all of the relevant records sought, the Secretary shall notify the claimant that the Secretary is unable to obtain records with respect to the claim. Such a notification shall—
(i) identify the records the Secretary is unable to obtain;
(ii) briefly explain the efforts that the Secretary made to obtain such records; and
(iii) explain that the Secretary will decide the claim based on the evidence of record but that this section does not prohibit the submission of records at a later date if such submission is otherwise allowed.
(B) The Secretary shall make not less than two requests to a custodian of a private record in order for an effort to obtain relevant private records to be treated as reasonable under this section, unless it is made evident by the first request that a second request would be futile in obtaining such records.
(3)
(A) This section shall not apply if the evidence of record allows for the Secretary to award the maximum benefit in accordance with this title based on the evidence of record.
(B) For purposes of this paragraph, the term “maximum benefit” means the highest evaluation assignable in accordance with the evidence of record, as long as such evidence is adequate for rating purposes and sufficient to grant the earliest possible effective date in accordance with section 5110 of this title.
(4) Under regulations prescribed by the Secretary, the Secretary—
(A) shall encourage claimants to submit relevant private medical records of the claimant to the Secretary if such submission does not burden the claimant; and
(B) in obtaining relevant private records under paragraph (1), may require the claimant to authorize the Secretary to obtain such records if such authorization is required to comply with Federal, State, or local law.
(c) Obtaining Records for Compensation Claims.—
(1) In the case of a claim for disability compensation, the assistance provided by the Secretary under this section shall include obtaining the following records if relevant to the claim:
(A) The claimant’s service medical records and, if the claimant has furnished the Secretary information sufficient to locate such records, other relevant records pertaining to the claimant’s active military, naval, or air service that are held or maintained by a governmental entity.
(B) Records of relevant medical treatment or examination of the claimant at Department health-care facilities or at the expense of the Department, if the claimant furnishes information sufficient to locate those records.
(C) Any other relevant records held by any Federal department or agency that the claimant adequately identifies and authorizes the Secretary to obtain.
(2) Whenever the Secretary attempts to obtain records from a Federal department or agency under this subsection, the efforts to obtain those records shall continue until the records are obtained unless it is reasonably certain that such records do not exist or that further efforts to obtain those records would be futile.
(d) Medical Examinations for Compensation Claims.—
(1) In the case of a claim for disability compensation, the assistance provided by the Secretary under subsection (a) shall include providing a medical examination or obtaining a medical opinion when such an examination or opinion is necessary to make a decision on the claim.
(2) The Secretary shall treat an examination or opinion as being necessary to make a decision on a claim for purposes of paragraph (1) if the evidence of record before the Secretary, taking into consideration all information and lay or medical evidence (including statements of the claimant)—
(A) contains competent evidence that the claimant has a current disability, or persistent or recurrent symptoms of disability; and
(B) indicates that the disability or symptoms may be associated with the claimant’s active military, naval, or air service; but
(C) does not contain sufficient medical evidence for the Secretary to make a decision on the claim.
(e) Regulations.— The Secretary shall prescribe regulations to carry out this section.
(f) Rule With Respect to Disallowed Claims.— Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the Secretary to reopen a claim that has been disallowed except when new and material evidence is presented or secured, as described in section 5108 of this title.
(g) Other Assistance Not Precluded.— Nothing in this section shall be construed as precluding the Secretary from providing such other assistance under subsection (a) to a claimant in substantiating a claim as the Secretary considers appropriate.

Source

(Added Pub. L. 106–475, § 3(a),Nov. 9, 2000, 114 Stat. 2097; amended Pub. L. 112–154, title V, § 505(a), (b),Aug. 6, 2012, 126 Stat. 1192.)
Amendments

2012—Subsec. (b). Pub. L. 112–154, § 505(a), amended subsec. (b) generally. Prior to amendment, text read as follows:
“(1) As part of the assistance provided under subsection (a), the Secretary shall make reasonable efforts to obtain relevant records (including private records) that the claimant adequately identifies to the Secretary and authorizes the Secretary to obtain.
“(2) Whenever the Secretary, after making such reasonable efforts, is unable to obtain all of the relevant records sought, the Secretary shall notify the claimant that the Secretary is unable to obtain records with respect to the claim. Such a notification shall—
“(A) identify the records the Secretary is unable to obtain;
“(B) briefly explain the efforts that the Secretary made to obtain those records; and
“(C) describe any further action to be taken by the Secretary with respect to the claim.
“(3) Whenever the Secretary attempts to obtain records from a Federal department or agency under this subsection or subsection (c), the efforts to obtain those records shall continue until the records are obtained unless it is reasonably certain that such records do not exist or that further efforts to obtain those records would be futile.”
Subsec. (c). Pub. L. 112–154, § 505(b), amended subsec. (c) generally. Prior to amendment, text read as follows: “In the case of a claim for disability compensation, the assistance provided by the Secretary under subsection (b) shall include obtaining the following records if relevant to the claim:
“(1) The claimant’s service medical records and, if the claimant has furnished the Secretary information sufficient to locate such records, other relevant records pertaining to the claimant’s active military, naval, or air service that are held or maintained by a governmental entity.
“(2) Records of relevant medical treatment or examination of the claimant at Department health-care facilities or at the expense of the Department, if the claimant furnishes information sufficient to locate those records.
“(3) Any other relevant records held by any Federal department or agency that the claimant adequately identifies and authorizes the Secretary to obtain.”
Effective Date of 2012 Amendment

Pub. L. 112–154, title V, § 505(c),Aug. 6, 2012, 126 Stat. 1193, provided that:
“(1) In general.—The amendments made by subsections (a) and (b) [amending this section] shall take effect on the date that is 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act [Aug. 6, 2012] and shall apply with respect to assistance obligations of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on or after such date.
“(2) Construction.—Nothing in this section [amending this section] or the amendments made by this section shall be construed to require the Secretary to carry out assistance in accordance with requirements of section 5103A of title 38, United States Code, as in effect on the day before the effective date established in paragraph (1) on or after such effective date.”

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38 CFR - Pensions, Bonuses, and Veterans' Relief

38 CFR Part 21 - VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION AND EDUCATION

 

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