38 CFR § 17.655 - Ecclesiastical endorsing organizations.

prev next
§ 17.655 Ecclesiastical endorsing organizations.

(a)Purpose. This section establishes the eligibility requirements that an ecclesiastical endorsing organization must meet in order to provide ecclesiastical endorsements of individuals who are seeking employment as VA chaplains or seeking to be engaged by VA under contract or appointed as on-facility fee basis VA chaplains under 38 U.S.C. 7405. Acceptance of an ecclesiastical endorsement by VA does not imply any approval by VA of the theology or practices of an ecclesiastical endorsing organization, nor does it obligate VA to employ the endorsed individual or any other member of the organization.

(b)Definitions. The following definitions apply to this section:

(1)Ecclesiastical endorsement means a written statement addressed to VA and signed by the designated endorsing official of an ecclesiastical endorsing organization certifying that an individual is in good standing with the faith group or denomination and, in the opinion of the endorsing official, is qualified to perform the full range of ministry, including all sacraments, rites, ordinances, rituals, and liturgies required by members of the faith group. Ecclesiastical endorsement is a condition of employment as a VA chaplain. An individual must obtain and maintain a full and active ecclesiastical endorsement to be employed as a VA chaplain.

(2)Ecclesiastical endorsing official means an individual who is authorized to provide or withdraw ecclesiastical endorsements on behalf of an ecclesiastical endorsing organization.

(3)Ecclesiastical endorsing organization means an organization that meets the eligibility requirements of paragraph (c) of this section and has been properly designated as an endorsing organization in accordance with paragraph (e) of this section.

(c)Eligibility to serve as an ecclesiastical endorsing organization. An ecclesiastical endorsing organization must meet the following requirements before such organization can endorse an applicant for VA chaplaincy:

(1) Be organized and function exclusively or substantially to provide religious ministries to a lay constituency and possess authority to both grant and withdraw initial and subsequent ecclesiastical endorsements;

(2) Have tax-exempt status as a religious organization or church under the Internal Revenue Code, section 501(c)(3);

(3) Agree to abide by all Federal and VA laws, regulations, policies, and issuances on the qualification and endorsement of persons for service as VA chaplains;

(4) Agree to notify VA in writing of any withdrawal of an existing ecclesiastical endorsement within ten days after the date of such withdrawal;

(5) Provide VA the documents stated in paragraph (d) of this section;

(6) Notify VA in writing within 30 days of any change of the name, address or contact information of the individual that it designates as its ecclesiastical endorsing official; and

(7) An ecclesiastical endorsing organization that is part of an endorsing organization by which its members can be endorsed cannot become a separate endorsing organization without the written permission of the larger endorsing organization.

(d)Request to designate ecclesiastical endorser. In order for an ecclesiastical endorsing organization to be recognized by VA such organization must submit the following:

(1) A complete VA form that requests the designation of an ecclesiastical endorsing official;

(2) A copy of an Internal Revenue Service document verifying that the organization currently holds a section 501(c)(3) exempt status as a church for Federal tax purposes from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (note “church” is used by the IRS not to denote a belief system, but to distinguish “churches” from other types of religious organizations; see IRS Instructions for Form 1023 Schedule A). Such rules stipulate that the particular religious beliefs of the organization are truly and sincerely held and that the practices and rituals associated with the organization's religious belief or creed are not illegal or contrary to clearly defined public policy. In order to determine whether a particular religious organization has properly acquired, and currently maintains, an IRS tax exempt status and does not engage in practices that are illegal or contrary to defined public policy, VA shall take appropriate steps to verify compliance with these requirements;

(3) A document verifying that the organization shall provide chaplains who shall function in a pluralistic environment, and who shall support directly and indirectly the free exercise of religion by all veterans, their family members, and other persons authorized to be served by VA;

(4) That it agrees to abide by all VA Directives, Instructions, and other guidance, regulations and policies on the qualification and endorsement of ministers for service as VA chaplains;

(5) Documentation that states the structure of the organization, including copies of the articles of incorporation, by-laws and constitution, membership requirements of the organization, if any, the religious beliefs and practices of the organization, and the organization's requirements to become clergy; and

(6) The name and address of the individual who is applying to become a VA chaplain.

(e)Approval of request to designate an ecclesiastical endorsing official. If an ecclesiastical endorsing organization meets the requirements of paragraph (c) of this section and has submitted the documents stated in paragraph (d) of this section, VA will notify the organization in writing that such organization has been designated as an ecclesiastical endorsing organization. The designation will be for a period of 3 years from the date of notification. Once an organization is designated as an ecclesiastical endorsing organization, VA will accept ecclesiastical endorsements from that organization without requiring any further documentation from the organization during the 3 year period, unless VA receives evidence that an organization no longer meets the requirements of this section. VA will only take action on an initial request to designate an ecclesiastical endorsing official when VA receives an application from an individual who is seeking employment as a VA chaplain or is seeking to be engaged under VA contract or appointed as on-facility fee basis VA chaplains under 38 U.S.C. 7405.

(f)Reporting requirement.

(1) To certify that VA chaplains continue to be endorsed by an ecclesiastical endorsing organization, such organization must provide VA an alphabetical listing of individuals who are endorsed by that endorsing organization and are employed as VA chaplains or are engaged by VA under contract or appointed as on-facility fee basis VA chaplains under 38 U.S.C. 7405 by January 1 of every calendar year.

(2) In order for VA to continue to recognize an ecclesiastical endorsing organization, such organization must provide written documentation that it continues to meet the requirements of this section every 3 years.

(g)Rescission of ecclesiastical endorsing organization. VA may rescind an organization's status as an ecclesiastical endorsing organization and refuse to accept ecclesiastical endorsements from such organization if it no longer meets the requirements of paragraph (c) of this section. VA will take the following steps before it rescinds the organization's status:

(1) VA will give the ecclesiastical endorsing organization written notice stating the reasons for the rescission and give the organization 60 days to provide a written reply addressing VA's concerns.

(2) VA will notify the ecclesiastical endorsing organization and all VA chaplains endorsed by the organization in writing of its decision after VA reviews the evidence provided by the organization or after the 60 day time period has expired, whichever comes first.

(3) Ecclesiastical endorsing organizations that are notified that they may no longer endorse individuals for VA chaplaincy because they do not meet the requirements of paragraph (c) of this section must resubmit all of the evidence stated in paragraph (d) of this section in order to be reconsidered as an endorsing organization.

(4) If an ecclesiastical endorsing organization is no longer able to endorse individuals for VA chaplaincy in accordance with this section, all ecclesiastical endorsements issued by that organization are considered to be withdrawn.

(The Office of Management and Budget has approved the information collection requirements in this section under control number 2900-0852.)
[82 FR 51772, Nov. 8, 2017]