[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 49 (Tuesday, March 13, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 14707-14712]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-6004]


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DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

38 CFR Part 17

RIN 2900-AN92


Vet Center Services

AGENCY:  Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs.

ACTION: Proposed rule.

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SUMMARY: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proposes to establish 
in regulation the readjustment counseling currently provided in VA's 
Vet Centers to certain veterans of the Armed Forces and members of 
their immediate families, and to implement provisions of the Caregivers 
and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 (the 2010 Act) 
regarding readjustment counseling. Although for several decades VA has 
provided readjustment counseling to veterans and members of their 
immediate families, a regulation is now explicitly required by the 2010 
Act. The

[[Page 14708]]

2010 Act makes certain current members of the Armed Forces who served 
on active duty in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom 
eligible for the readjustment counseling that VA currently provides to 
veterans and members of their immediate families. In addition, the 
proposed regulation would authorize Vet Centers to provide referral and 
advice to individuals who are not otherwise eligible for such 
counseling, and served in a theater of combat operations or in an area 
during a period of hostilities in that area, in accordance with the 
2010 Act.

DATES: Comments must be received by VA on or before May 14, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Written comments may be submitted through http://www.Regulations.gov; by mail or hand delivery to the Director, 
Regulations Management (02REG), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 
Vermont Ave. NW., Room 1068, Washington, DC 20420; or by fax to (202) 
273-9026. Comments should indicate that they are submitted in response 
to ``RIN 2900-AN92, Vet Center Services.'' Copies of comments received 
will be available for public inspection in the Office of Regulation 
Policy and Management, Room 1063B, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 
p.m., Monday through Friday (except holidays). Please call (202) 461-
4902 (this is not a toll-free number) for an appointment. In addition, 
during the comment period, comments may be viewed online through the 
Federal Docket Management System at http://www.Regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Gregory Harms, Readjustment Counseling 
Service (15), Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans 
Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20420; (202) 461-6525. 
(This is not a toll-free number).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Under 38 U.S.C. 1712A, VA is authorized to 
establish Vet Centers that must furnish counseling to certain veterans 
upon request, who are clearly identified by the statute, to assist such 
veterans in readjusting to civilian life. We have consistently 
interpreted this authority to provide readjustment counseling broadly 
to mean those types of counseling that would assist in readjusting to 
life as part of a family, reentering civilian employment, and referrals 
for medical care or substance abuse. For decades, VA has implemented 
this authority without regulation based on statutory authority. On May 
5, 2010, Congress provided in section 401 of the 2010 Act that ``[a]ny 
member of the Armed Forces, including a member of the National Guard or 
Reserve, who serves on active duty in the Armed Forces in Operation 
Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom is eligible'' for the 
services provided to veterans under 38 U.S.C. 1712A, ``regardless of 
whether or not the member is currently on active duty in the Armed 
Forces at the time of receipt of counseling and services under'' 
section 1712A. Public Law 111-163, sec. 401(a) and (b). The law also 
provides that eligibility for these members of the Armed Forces ``shall 
be subject to such regulations as the Secretary of Defense and the 
Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall jointly prescribe for purposes of 
[section 401].'' This proposed rule would initiate the rulemaking 
requirement prescribed by Congress. Although VA has provided section 
1712A benefits without a regulation in the past, in the interests of 
clarity and completeness the proposed regulation would cover the 
provision of benefits to veterans under section 1712A as well as 
benefits provided under section 401 of the 2010 Act.
    In addition, section 402 of the 2010 Act added a new 38 U.S.C. 
1712A(c), which requires VA to provide certain referral services and 
advice to an ``individual who has been discharged or released from 
active military, naval, or air service but who is not otherwise 
eligible'' for readjustment counseling. The proposed rule would 
implement this statutory authority.
    Lastly, section 304 of the 2010 Act authorizes readjustment 
counseling for the immediate family of Operation Enduring Freedom and 
Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans for a period of 3 years after such 
veterans return from deployment. This counseling is available to help 
the readjustment of such veterans to civilian life or to assist the 
readjustment of the family following the return of such veterans.
    Proposed paragraph (a) would concern eligibility for readjustment 
counseling. Pursuant to the requirements of 38 U.S.C. 1712A(a)(1)(A) 
and in accordance with current practice, VA provides benefits ``[u]pon 
the request'' of an eligible veteran. There are no forms or claims 
required to obtain this benefit--individuals need only make an oral 
request for readjustment counseling upon presenting at the Vet Center.
    Subsections (a)(1) and (2) of 38 U.S.C. 1712A set forth the 
categories of veterans who are eligible for benefits under the statute. 
We would greatly simplify the language describing them. First, 38 
U.S.C. 1712A(a)(1)(B)(i)(I) requires VA to provide readjustment 
counseling to any ``veteran who served on active duty * * * in a 
theater of combat operations (as determined by the Secretary [of VA] in 
consultation with the Secretary of Defense) during the Vietnam era.'' 
Second, 38 U.S.C. 1712A(a)(1)(B)(i)(II) requires VA to provide 
readjustment counseling to veterans who served ``after May 7, 1975,'' 
which is the ending date of the Vietnam era (see 38 U.S.C. 101(29)), 
``in an area at a time during which hostilities occurred in that 
area.'' Third, 38 U.S.C. 1712A(a)(2)(A) provides that VA ``may 
furnish'' benefits to veterans other than those discussed above--for 
whom VA ``shall furnish'' benefits--who ``served in the active 
military, naval, or air service in a theater of combat operations * * * 
during a period of war, or in any other area during a period in which 
hostilities * * * occurred in such area.'' We note that VA has 
consistently provided benefits to such veterans in accordance with the 
Secretary's discretion under this provision.
    The statute then defines ``hostilities'' solely for the purpose of 
veterans whose eligibility is established under section 1712A(a)(2)(A), 
as ``an armed conflict in which the members of the Armed Forces [we]re 
subjected to danger comparable to the danger to which members of the 
Armed Forces have been subjected in combat with enemy armed forces 
during a period of war, as determined by the Secretary [of VA] in 
consultation with the Secretary of Defense.'' 38 U.S.C. 1712A(a)(2)(B). 
This definition is a general, basic, and commonly understood meaning of 
the term ``hostilities.'' We do not know, and the legislative history 
is silent as to, why Congress chose to make this definition explicitly 
applicable to the use of the term ``hostilities'' in section 
1712A(a)(2)(A), but did not address the meaning of the same term as it 
is used in section 1712A(a)(1)(B)(i)(II). In repeated consultations 
with DoD over the decades during which we have been providing benefits 
under this section, VA has been unable to identify a reason that the 
definition of ``hostilities'' in section 1712A(a)(2)(A) should be 
different from the definition in the earlier section. Again, the 
definition provided in 38 U.S.C. 1712A(a)(2)(B) is clear and 
encompasses the only meaning that we believe could have been intended 
by the use of the word ``hostilities.'' Hence, we have not in practice 
distinguished between the ``hostilities'' requirements in 1712A(a)(1) 
and (a)(2), and do not intend to do so in the proposed rule.
    Because we do not distinguish between the ``hostilities'' described 
in sections 1712A(a)(1) and (a)(2), and

[[Page 14709]]

because we will continue to provide readjustment counseling in 
accordance with the broader, discretionary authority in section 
1712(a)(2)(A), the above-described eligibility criteria for 
readjustment counseling under section 1712A can be simplified to read 
as follows:

    (1) A veteran who served on active duty in a theater of combat 
operations during a period of war.
    (2) A veteran who served on active duty in an area in which 
hostilities occurred, or in combat against a hostile force during a 
period of hostilities.

    In addition to the above-described veterans, we propose to include 
three additional categories of individuals who would be authorized to 
receive benefits under the proposed rule. Proposed paragraph (a)(3) 
would establish eligibility for any ``veteran who served on active duty 
during the Vietnam era who sought or was provided counseling under 38 
U.S.C. 1712A before January 1, 2004.'' This would be a straightforward 
application of 38 U.S.C. 1712A(a)(1)(B)(ii), which extends eligibility 
to veterans who served during the Vietnam era but did not serve in a 
combat theater or an area in which hostilities occurred, so long as 
they sought counseling before the year 2004.
    In proposed paragraph (a)(4) we would implement section 401 of the 
2010 Act, which states that ``[a]ny member of the Armed Forces, 
including a member of the National Guard or reserve, who serves on 
active duty in the Armed Forces in Operation Enduring Freedom or 
Operation Iraqi Freedom is eligible for readjustment counseling and 
related mental health services under [38 U.S.C. 1712A].'' We would 
extend eligibility to such active duty servicemembers and offer the 
same benefits as those provided to veterans under section 1712A. In our 
view, section 401 of the 2010 Act does not contemplate providing a 
lesser benefit to eligible active duty servicemembers. Additionally, 
after consultation with the Department of Defense, VA considers 
Operation New Dawn to be part of the same contingency operation that 
was formerly called Operation Iraqi Freedom. Therefore, VA will 
consider participants in Operation New Dawn to be eligible for benefits 
under the legal authorities pertaining to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
    Section 304 of the 2010 Act specifically requires VA to provide 
readjustment counseling to members of the immediate family of a veteran 
who served in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom 
(OEF/OIF) during the 3-year period beginning on the date of the return 
of such veteran from deployment in Operation Enduring Freedom or 
Operation Iraqi Freedom to assist in ``the readjustment of such 
veterans to civilian life,'' the recovery of such veterans from an 
injury or illness incurred during deployment, and ``the readjustment of 
the family following the return of such veterans.''
    VA's long-standing interpretation of 38 U.S.C. 1712A has been that 
marriage and family counseling is a necessary component of counseling 
provided to a veteran to assist in readjusting to civilian life. The 
support of a family member and spouse is essential to the veteran's 
ability to successfully transition to civilian life. By receiving 
readjustment counseling, such family member and spouse is better able 
to cope with the veteran's readjustment process, and understand how to 
better assist the veteran, regardless of whether or not the veteran is 
currently receiving readjustment counseling of his or her own accord. 
Moreover, in cases where a veteran is provided mental health services 
as a result of a referral from a Vet Center, VA is specifically 
authorized to provide mental health services that ``include such 
consultation, counseling, training, services, and expenses as are 
described in [38 U.S.C.] 1782 and 1783.'' Section 1782, in turn, 
provides independent authority for VA to provide counseling for the 
family members of veterans who are receiving VA treatment, and we have 
recently clarified this authority in 38 CFR 71.50. In addition, members 
of the veteran's immediate family qualify for bereavement counseling 
under section 1783, if the family member was already in receipt of 
counseling services under section 1782. Unlike section 304 of the 2010 
Act, these statutes are not limited to OEF/OIF veterans. Moreover, as 
further explained below in our definition of the readjustment 
counseling services that VA currently provides through our Vet Centers, 
VA is already providing many readjustment counseling services to 
members of a veteran's immediate family, without the limitations 
established in section 304. For these reasons, we do not believe that 
Congress intended that section 304 should be interpreted to restrict 
readjustment counseling to members of the immediate family of veterans 
who served in OEF/OIF. We, therefore, propose to simply state in 
paragraph (a)(5) that VA will provide readjustment counseling to 
``[m]embers of the immediate family of a veteran or servicemember who 
is eligible for readjustment counseling under paragraphs (a)(1), (2), 
(3) or (4) of this section.'' By using a broad statement, we would 
implement the authority in section 304, while recognizing VA's 
continuing duty to provide the full range of readjustment counseling 
services to other veterans' family members under the authorities 
described above and in accordance with long-standing VA practice.
    VA is required to determine if a veteran served on active duty in a 
theater of combat operations under this authority ``in consultation 
with the Secretary of Defense.'' See 38 U.S.C. 1712A(a)(1)(B)(i)(I), 
(a)(2)(A), (a)(2)(B). Proposed paragraph (b)(2) would list the various 
types of evidence VA will accept as evidence of service in a theater of 
combat operations. The list includes every category of medal that can 
be used to establish eligibility, with parenthetical examples of the 
most common specific medals within certain categories. However, this 
list cannot be exhaustive, as additional medals may be added at any 
time. The list is based on years of practice and cooperation with the 
Department of Defense (DoD), and all veterans who serve in either a 
combat theater or an area where hostilities occur, and receive one of 
the medals listed in proposed paragraph (b) would qualify. We would 
include a ``catch-all'' category at the end of the paragraph for 
``other combat theater awards'' established by public law or executive 
order. VA will continue to actively consult with DoD on this issue and 
base eligibility on additional medals where appropriate.
    Proposed paragraph (b)(1) would state that veterans may submit an 
annotated DD-214 indicating service in a designated theater of combat 
operations.
    Proposed paragraph (b)(3) would allow VA to accept receipt of 
Hostile Fire or Imminent Danger Pay, commonly known as ``combat pay,'' 
or combat tax exemption after November 11, 1998, as proof that the 
veteran or servicemember served on active duty in a theater of combat 
operations.
    Proposed paragraph (b)(4) would also allow VA to independently 
verify appropriate service in coordination with DoD. Although persons 
seeking counseling generally submit a DD-214 and other appropriate 
documentation showing receipt of a medal, VA may act independently when 
the veteran or servicemember lacks documentation, or when a veteran 
states that it will be difficult for him or her to obtain such 
documentation.
    Proposed paragraph (c) would implement section 402 of the 2010 Act, 
which added 38 U.S.C. 1712A(c), which reads as follows:

    (c) Upon receipt of a request for counseling under [38 U.S.C. 
1712A] from any individual

[[Page 14710]]

who has been discharged or released from active military, naval, or 
air service but who is not otherwise eligible for such counseling, 
the Secretary [of VA] shall--
    (1) provide referral services to assist such individual, to the 
maximum extent practicable, in obtaining mental health care and 
services from sources outside [VA]; and
    (2) if pertinent, advise such individual of such individual's 
rights to apply to the appropriate military, naval or air service, 
and to [VA], for review of such individual's discharge or release 
from such service.

38 U.S.C. 1712A(c).

    The benefit authorized by section 1712A, i.e., ``counseling to the 
veteran to assist the veteran in readjusting to civilian life,'' and by 
section 401 of the 2010 Act (``readjustment counseling'') is not 
defined by statute. In proposed paragraph (d), we would state that 
``readjustment counseling'' includes but is not limited to: 
psychosocial assessment, individual counseling, group counseling, 
marital and family counseling for military-related readjustment issues, 
substance abuse assessments, medical referrals, referral for additional 
VA benefits, employment assessment and referral, military sexual trauma 
counseling and referral, and outreach. We would add that a 
``psychosocial assessment'' means the holistic assessing of an 
individual's psychological, social, and functional capacities as it 
relates to their readjustment from a combat theater. We note that VA is 
authorized to provide these services via Vet Center counselors, and to 
train such counselors, by 38 U.S.C. 1712A(d).
    Proposed paragraph (e) would establish the confidentiality of 
records maintained under this section. Benefits provided under the 
proposed rule, in accordance with current practice, would be provided 
exclusively by VA Vet Centers, which operate independently of any VA 
medical center or DoD. In accordance with applicable authorities, 
including 5 U.S.C. 552a, 38 U.S.C. 5701 and 7332, 45 CFR parts 160 and 
164, and VA's System of Records 64VA15, ``Readjustment Counseling 
Service Vet Center Program,'' most recently amended at 74 FR 29019 
(June 18, 2009), VA Vet Center records will not be disclosed to any VA 
medical personnel or to DoD without the express, signed authorization 
of the veteran or servicemember, or a specific exception permitting 
their release. We believe that it is important to state this in the 
proposed rule to allay any fears, particularly fears held by active 
duty servicemembers, that their records regarding readjustment 
counseling will be shared with DoD without proper legal authority.

Executive Orders 12866 and 13563

    Executive Orders 12866 and 13563 direct agencies to assess the 
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 effects, and other advantages; distributive impacts; 
and equity). Executive Order 13563 (Improving Regulation and Regulatory 
Review) emphasizes the importance of quantifying both costs and 
benefits, reducing costs, harmonizing rules, and promoting flexibility. 
Executive Order 12866 (Regulatory Planning and Review) defines a 
``significant regulatory action,'' which requires review by the Office 
of Management and Budget (OMB) as ``any 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 
this Executive Order.''
    The economic, interagency, budgetary, legal, and policy 
implications of this regulatory action have been examined and it has 
been determined not to be a significant regulatory action under 
Executive Order 12866.

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 expenditure by 
State, local, or tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the 
private sector, of $100 million or more (adjusted annually for 
inflation) in any given year. This proposed rule would have no such 
effect on State, local, or tribal governments, or on the private 
sector.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This proposed rule includes a collection of information under the 
Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 3501-3521) that requires approval by 
the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Accordingly, under section 
3507(d) of the Act, VA has submitted a copy of this rulemaking to OMB 
for review. OMB assigns a control number for each collection of 
information it approves. Except for emergency approvals under 44 U.S.C. 
3507(j), VA may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to 
respond to, a collection of information unless it displays a currently 
valid OMB control number. Proposed Sec.  17.2000(b) contains a 
collection of information under the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 
3501-3521). If OMB does not approve the collections of information as 
requested, VA will immediately remove the provisions containing a 
collection of information or take such other action as is directed by 
OMB.
    Comments on the collections of information contained in this 
proposed rule should be submitted to the Office of Management and 
Budget, Attention: Desk Officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs, 
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Washington, DC 20503, 
with copies sent by mail or hand delivery to: the Director, Office of 
Regulation Policy and Management (02REG), Department of Veterans 
Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave. NW., Room 1068, Washington, DC 20420; fax to 
(202) 273-9026; or through www.Regulations.gov. Comments should 
indicate that they are submitted in response to ``RIN 2900-AN92.''
    OMB is required to make a decision concerning the collections of 
information contained in this proposed rule between 30 and 60 days 
after publication of this document in the Federal Register. Therefore, 
a comment to OMB is best assured of having its full effect if OMB 
receives it within 30 days of publication. This does not affect the 
deadline for the public to comment on the proposed rule.
    VA considers comments by the public on proposed collections of 
information in--
     Evaluating whether the proposed collections of information 
are necessary for the proper performance of the functions of VA, 
including whether the information will have practical utility;
     Evaluating the accuracy of VA's estimate of the burden of 
the proposed collections of information, including the validity of the 
methodology and assumptions used;
     Enhancing the quality, usefulness, and clarity of the 
information to be collected; and
     Minimizing the burden of the collections of information on 
those who are to respond, including through the

[[Page 14711]]

use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other 
technological collection techniques or other forms of information 
technology, e.g., permitting electronic submission of responses.
    The proposed amendments to 38 CFR part 17 contain collections of 
information under the Paperwork Reduction Act for which we are 
requesting approval by OMB. These collections of information are 
described immediately following this paragraph, under their respective 
titles.
    Title: Readjustment counseling.
    Summary of collection of information: The proposed rule at Sec.  
17.2000(b) would allow a veteran to submit a copy of a DD-214 or other 
appropriate documentation as evidence that the veteran received a medal 
that would serve as the basis for establishing his or her eligibility 
to receive readjustment counseling.
    Description of the need for information and proposed use of 
information: Receipt of one of the listed medals will be accepted as 
evidence to establish eligibility for readjustment counseling.
    Description of likely respondents: Veterans or active duty service 
members.
    Estimated number of respondents per year: 57,000.
    Estimated frequency of responses per year: 1.
    Estimated total annual reporting and recordkeeping burden: No more 
than 1 hour to locate and scan the appropriate documentation into the 
veteran's Record.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    The Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of Defense 
hereby certify that this 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 would not cause a significant economic impact on health 
care providers, suppliers, or other small entities. Therefore, pursuant 
to 5 U.S.C. 605(b), this proposed rule is exempt from the initial and 
final regulatory flexibility analysis requirements of sections 603 and 
604.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Numbers

    The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance program number and title 
for this rule are as follows: 64.005, Grants to States for Construction 
of State Home Facilities; 64.007, Blind Rehabilitation Centers; 64.008, 
Veterans Domiciliary Care; 64.009, Veterans Medical Care Benefits; 
64.010, Veterans Nursing Home Care; 64.014, Veterans State Domiciliary 
Care; 64.015, Veterans State Nursing Home Care; 64.018, Sharing 
Specialized Medical Resources; 64.019, Veterans Rehabilitation Alcohol 
and Drug Dependence; 64.022, Veterans Home Based Primary Care; and 
64.024, VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program.

List of Subjects in 38 CFR Part 17

    Administrative practice and procedure, Alcohol abuse, Alcoholism, 
Claims, Day care, Dental health, Drug abuse, Foreign relations, 
Government contracts, Grant programs--health, Government programs--
veterans, Health care, Health facilities, Health professions, Health 
records, Homeless, Medical and dental schools, Medical devices, Medical 
research, Mental health programs, Nursing home care, Veterans.

    Approved: November 15, 2011.
John R. Gingrich,
Chief of Staff, Department of Veterans Affairs.
    Approved: February 29, 2012.
Jo Ann Rooney,
Acting Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel & Readiness, Department of 
Defense.

    For the reasons set forth in the preamble, 38 CFR part 17 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:

PART 17--MEDICAL

    1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 38 U.S.C. 501, and as noted in specific sections.

    2. Add an undesignated center heading and Sec.  17.2000 to read as 
follows:

Vet Centers


Sec.  17.2000  Vet Center services.

    (a) Eligibility for readjustment counseling. Upon request, VA will 
provide readjustment counseling to the following individuals:
    (1) A veteran who served on active duty in a theater of combat 
operations during a period of war.
    (2) A veteran who served on active duty in an area in which 
hostilities occurred, or in combat against a hostile force during a 
period of hostilities.
    (3) A veteran who served on active duty during the Vietnam era who 
sought or was provided counseling under 38 U.S.C. 1712A before January 
1, 2004.
    (4) Any member of the Armed Forces, including a member of the 
National Guard or reserve, who served on active duty in the Armed 
Forces in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom.
    (5) Members of the immediate family of a veteran or servicemember 
who is eligible for readjustment counseling under paragraphs (a)(1), 
(2), (3) or (4) of this section.
    (b) Proof of eligibility. For the purposes of this section, proof 
of service in a theater of combat operations or in an area during a 
period of hostilities in that area will be established by:
    (1) A DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active 
Service) containing notations of service in a designated theater of 
combat operations; or
    (2) Receipt of one of the following medals: The Armed Forces 
Expeditionary Medal, Service Specific Expeditionary Medal (e.g., Navy 
Expeditionary Medal), Combat Era Specific Expeditionary Medal (e.g., 
the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal), Campaign Specific 
Medal (e.g., Vietnam Service Medal or Iraq Campaign Medal), or other 
combat theater awards established by public law or executive order; or
    (3) Proof of receipt of Hostile Fire or Imminent Danger Pay 
(commonly referred to as ``combat pay'') or combat tax exemption after 
November 11, 1998.
    (4) Independent verification by VA in coordination with the 
Department of Defense.
    (c) Referral and advice. Upon request, VA will provide to an 
individual who has been discharged or released from active military, 
naval, or air service, but who is not otherwise eligible for such 
counseling, and meets the eligibility requirements of paragraph (a) of 
this section, the following:
    (1) Referral services to assist such individual, to the maximum 
extent practicable, in obtaining mental health care and services from 
sources outside VA; and
    (2) If pertinent, advise such individual of such individual's 
rights to apply to:
    (i) The appropriate military, naval or air service for review of 
such individual's discharge or release from such service; and
    (ii) VA for a VA benefits eligibility determination under 38 CFR 
3.12.
    (d) Readjustment counseling defined. For the purposes of this 
section, readjustment counseling includes but is not limited to: 
psychosocial assessment, individual counseling, group counseling, 
marital and family counseling for military-related readjustment issues, 
substance abuse assessments, medical referrals, referral for additional 
VA benefits, employment assessment and referral, military sexual trauma 
counseling and referral, and outreach. A ``psychosocial assessment''

[[Page 14712]]

under this paragraph means the holistic assessing of an individual's 
psychological, social, and functional capacities as it relates to their 
readjustment from combat theaters.
    (e) Confidentiality. Benefits under this section are furnished 
solely by VA Vet Centers, which maintain confidential records 
independent from any other VA or Department of Defense medical records 
and which will not disclose such records without either the veteran or 
servicemember's voluntary, signed authorization, or a specific 
exception permitting their release. For more information, see 5 U.S.C. 
552a, 38 U.S.C. 5701 and 7332, 45 CFR parts 160 and 164, and VA's 
System of Records 64VA15, ``Readjustment Counseling Service Vet Center 
Program.''

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 501 and 1712A; Pub. L. 111-163, sec. 401)


[FR Doc. 2012-6004 Filed 3-12-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 8320-01-P