[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 211 (Thursday, October 31, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 65489-65509]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-25968]



[[Page 65489]]

Vol. 78

Thursday,

No. 211

October 31, 2013

Part III





Department of Veterans Affairs





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38 CFR Parts 3, 19, and 20





Standard Claims and Appeals Forms; Proposed Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 78 , No. 211 / Thursday, October 31, 2013 / 
Proposed Rules

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DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

38 CFR Parts 3, 19, and 20

RIN 2900-AO81


Standard Claims and Appeals Forms

AGENCY: Department of Veterans Affairs.

ACTION: Proposed rule.

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SUMMARY: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is proposing to amend 
its adjudication regulations and the appeals regulations and rules of 
practice of the Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board). There are two major 
components of these proposed changes. The first is to require all 
claims to be filed on standard forms prescribed by the Secretary, 
regardless of the type of claim or posture in which the claim arises. 
The second is to provide that VA would accept an expression of 
dissatisfaction or disagreement with an adjudicative determination by 
the agency of original jurisdiction (AOJ) as a Notice of Disagreement 
(NOD) only if it is submitted on a standardized form provided by VA for 
the purpose of appealing the decision, in cases where such a form is 
provided. The purpose of these amendments is to improve the quality and 
timeliness of the processing of veterans' claims for benefits.

DATES: Comments must be received by VA on or before December 30, 2013.

ADDRESSES: Written comments may be submitted through 
www.regulations.gov; by mail or hand-delivery to the Director, 
Regulations Management (02REG), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 
Vermont Avenue NW., Room 1068, Washington, DC 20420; or by fax to (202) 
273-9026. (This is not a toll-free number.) Comments should indicate 
that they are submitted in response to ``RIN 2900-AO81--Standard Claims 
and Appeals Forms.'' Copies of comments received will be available for 
public inspection in the Office of Regulation Policy and Management, 
Room 1063B, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through 
Friday (except holidays). Please call (202) 461-4902 for an 
appointment. (This is not a toll-free number.) In addition, during the 
comment period, comments may be viewed online through the Federal 
Docket Management System (FDMS) at www.regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Stephanie Caucutt Li, Chief, 
Regulations Staff (211D), Compensation Service, Department of Veterans 
Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20420, (202) 461-9700. 
(This is not a toll-free number.)

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

I. Executive Summary

    This document proposes to amend 38 CFR parts 3, 19, and 20. The 
proposed amendments would require the use of standard forms to initiate 
claims for benefits, and to initiate appeals of AOJ decisions on those 
claims. VA's forms are available on the following Web site: http://www.va.gov/vaforms/.

A. Purpose

    VA is proposing to amend its adjudication regulations and the 
appeals regulations and rules of practice of the Board. There are two 
major components of these proposed changes. The first is to require all 
claims to be filed on standard forms prescribed by the Secretary, 
regardless of the type of claim or posture in which the claim arises. 
The second is to provide that VA would accept an expression of 
dissatisfaction or disagreement with an adjudicative determination by 
AOJ as an NOD only if it is submitted on a standardized form provided 
by VA for the purpose of appealing the decision, in cases where such a 
form is provided.
    These amendments are necessary to improve the quality and 
timeliness of the processing of veterans' claims for benefits. These 
changes are intended to modernize the VA system so that all veterans 
receive more timely and accurate adjudications of their claims and 
appeals. VA's goal is to process all claims with 98 percent accuracy 
within 125 days by 2015. VA is experiencing a significant increase in 
claims volume in the compensation benefit line, which has consequences 
for the timeliness of decisions on claims for benefits, and appeals of 
those decisions. As discussed more fully below, these amendments would 
improve the efficiency of the claims adjudication and appeals process 
in order to respond to the increasing volume and complexity of 
compensation claims.
    VA has clear authority to make these regulatory changes. VA is 
granted broad authority to ``prescribe all rules and regulations which 
are necessary or appropriate to carry out the laws administered by [VA] 
and are consistent with those laws,'' including specifically authority 
to prescribe ``the forms of application by claimants under such laws''. 
38 U.S.C. 501(a).

B. Summary of Major Provisions

    Regulatory change is necessary to promote the submission of claims 
and appeals in standard formats that are more easily digitalized and 
processed than non-standard submissions. When a compensation claim is 
granted, VA pays a monthly benefit according to the severity of the 
veteran's disability, beginning from the claim's effective date, which 
is usually the date the claim was filed. VA's current rules allow a 
claimant to submit an ``informal'' claim in a non-standard format that 
not only may be difficult to distinguish from other routine 
correspondence but may be incomplete for adjudication. While the 
current rules are meant to minimize the burden associated with 
initiating a claim, and allow benefits to be paid from the earliest 
possible date if the claim is ultimately granted, they also 
unintentionally incentivize the submission of claims in non-standard 
formats that frustrate timely, accurate, and orderly claims processing. 
This rule proposes to eliminate the concept of an ``informal'' claim, 
and replace it with a process that would incentivize the submission of 
claims in a format more amenable to efficient processing, while still 
allowing veterans to receive favorable effective date treatment similar 
to that available under the current ``informal'' claim rule.
    In order to achieve the requirement that all claims be filed on a 
standard form, VA proposes to amend 38 CFR 3.155. Claims filed through 
an online claims submission tool within a VA Web-based electronic 
claims application system would be considered filed as of the date of 
an ``incomplete claim'' if the claim is ultimately completed within 1 
year. This would allow the claimant to preserve an effective date, 
secure any necessary evidence, and submit the claim to VA in a package 
that facilitates efficient processing. VA proposes to establish rules 
for assigning effective dates for claims depending on the format in 
which they are filed. In particular, paper and other claims would be 
considered filed as of the date a complete claim is filed. VA further 
proposes to amend 38 CFR 3.160, to clarify what constitutes a complete 
claim. VA also proposes to remove 38 CFR 3.157, which generally 
requires VA to deem various documents other than claims forms to 
constitute claims. However, VA would seek to preserve many of the 
features of Sec.  3.157 that are favorable to veterans through an 
amendment to 38 CFR 3.400, providing that medical records which 
indicate an increase in disability may be the basis for an effective 
date of increased compensation provided a complete claim for increase 
is received within 1 year.
    Regulatory change is also necessary to improve the quality and 
timeliness of VA's processing of appeals. By statute, the first step in 
the VA appellate process is filing an NOD. VA's current rule

[[Page 65491]]

allows an NOD to be filed in any format, so long as it contains a 
statement that can be ``reasonably construed'' as seeking appellate 
review. As explained more fully below, this standard turns the 
identification of an appeal into a time-intensive and inefficient 
interpretive exercise, complicated by the fact that an NOD may be 
embedded within correspondence addressing a variety of other matters. 
This contributes to delay and error. Requiring appeals to be initiated 
on a standard form would reduce errors in identifying appeals and 
reduce the time AOJ personnel must spend clarifying the scope and 
nature of the disagreement with VA's initial decision.
    Therefore, VA proposes to require that a claimant may initiate an 
appeal from an adverse decision of the AOJ only by submitting a 
standard form whenever the AOJ provides a form for that purpose. VA 
proposes to amend 38 CFR 20.201 to redefine what constitutes an NOD. VA 
proposes to add a paragraph (a), which would state that VA will accept 
as an NOD only the form provided by the AOJ for the purpose of 
initiating an appeal in cases where such a form is provided. In cases 
where the AOJ provides a form for purposes of initiating an appeal, an 
NOD would consist of a completed and timely submitted copy of that 
form. VA also proposes to add a new paragraph (b) to Sec.  20.201, 
which would retain the current standard for NODs relating to decisions 
of the AOJ in cases where no such form is provided. This proposed rule 
is necessary to allow VA to require the use of a standard form and 
design appeal forms tailored to the specific needs of particular 
benefit lines rather than a single agency-wide generic form.
    VA also proposes to add two new sections to part 19. New Sec.  
19.23 would clarify whether the requirements of current 38 CFR 19.26, 
19.27, and 19.28, or proposed Sec.  19.24, apply to a case. New Sec.  
19.24 would set forth procedures for AOJ processing of NODs governed by 
proposed Sec.  20.201(a), including procedures governing the treatment 
of incomplete forms. Additionally, VA proposes to make minor changes to 
Sec.  3.2600, which discusses review of benefit claims decisions after 
filing of an NOD, Sec.  20.3(c), which defines ``appellant,'' and Sec.  
20.200, which describes what constitutes an appeal. The specific 
revisions are explained in further detail below.
    These changes generally would preclude claimants from initiating 
claims and appeals through non-standard means. However, VA believes the 
benefits of these changes would outweigh any burden of that limitation, 
for three primary reasons. First, requiring the use of standard forms 
would impose minimal if any burden on claimants because the forms are 
designed to be simple to use and guide the claimant in providing 
information necessary to substantiate their claim which would otherwise 
be required to be provided under current procedures. Second, these 
proposed changes would allow claimants, through use of VA's electronic 
applications process, to preserve the same beneficial effective-date 
treatment they could obtain under current procedures regarding non-
standard informal claims. Third, the use of standard forms would enable 
VA to more quickly process claims and would enhance the efficiency and 
timeliness of VA's claims processing and benefit delivery system-wide.
    This proposed rule would apply only with respect to claims and 
appeals filed 30 days after the date this rule is published in the 
Federal Register as a final rule. Claims and appeals pending under the 
current regulations as of that date would continue to be goverened by 
the current regulations.

II. Background

A. Claims

    Claimants must file ``a specific claim in the form prescribed by 
the Secretary'' in order for VA to pay benefits. 38 U.S.C. 5101(a)(1). 
VA is required to notify the claimant of any information or evidence 
necessary to substantiate the claim (hereinafter ``section 5103 
notice''). 38 U.S.C. 5103(a)(1). Additionally, VA must make 
``reasonable efforts to assist a claimant in obtaining evidence 
necessary'' to substantiate the claim, to include assistance in 
obtaining records and providing medical examinations. 38 U.S.C. 5103A. 
Since there are no limitations or restrictions on the number of claims 
a claimant may file, one claimant can have multiple claims pending for 
adjudication. For instance, a claimant may request benefits for one or 
multiple issues in one claim, and the same claimant may also submit 
additional claim(s) for one or multiple issues while the previous claim 
is still pending for adjudication. In such cases, VA generally must 
then send the claimant a different 5103 notice for those new claims 
filed and assist by developing evidence for these added claims. The 
filing of additional claims while a previous claim is still pending 
significantly lengthens the overall processing and adjudication of all 
the claims filed, i.e., the previously filed claim as well as the 
additional claim(s) filed, because additionally filed subsequent claims 
are associated, processed, and adjudicated with the previously filed 
pending claim. Thus, VA must gather additional evidence for the 
subsequently filed claim, thereby extending the time the additional 
claim is pending, and must identify and adjudicate all the issues or 
contentions claimed on all filed claims which are ready for a 
determination, while simultaneously continuing to develop the issues or 
contentions which are not ready for determination. This process will 
lengthen the overall adjudication time of all claims filed by one 
claimant, particularly when multiple issues or contentions are raised 
for every claim filed.
    If VA receives an incomplete application, VA will notify the 
claimant of the information necessary to complete the application and 
will defer assistance until the claimant submits this information. 38 
CFR 3.159(b)(2). If VA does not receive a complete claim within 1 year 
of receipt of the incomplete application, VA will not take action on 
processing or adjudicating the incomplete claim. The date of receipt of 
the incomplete application or informal claim will be preserved as a 
date of claim if a completed application is submitted within 1 year of 
receipt. However, if VA does not receive the completed application or 
the information or evidence necessary to substantiate the claim within 
1 year of submission, the date of receipt of the claim would not be 
preserved and the claimant would have to submit or resubmit a completed 
claim, resulting in a different date of claim.
    VA receives an enormous volume of non-standard submissions under 
its current rules. Current 38 CFR 3.155(a) provides that ``[a]ny 
communication or action, indicating an intent to apply for benefits . . 
. may be considered an informal claim.'' If a claimant submits an 
informal claim, and a claim on a form prescribed by the Secretary is 
not previously of record, VA will furnish the appropriate application, 
depending upon the particular benefit sought, for completion and notify 
the claimant that the date VA received the informal claim will be 
preserved as the date of claim for effective date purposes if the 
completed application is filed within 1 year of the date it was sent. 
If a completed application is not received within the 1-year timeframe, 
VA will not take further action on the informal claim. 38 CFR 3.151, 
3.152, 3.155.
    Current 38 CFR 3.155(c) provides that if a claim in the form 
prescribed by the Secretary is already of record, any informal request 
for increase or

[[Page 65492]]

reopening will be accepted as the claim. In other words, claims for an 
increase in benefits or to reopen a previous claim do not need to be 
filed on a form prescribed by the Secretary under VA's current rules. 
These claims make up a majority of VA's compensation workload. As 
previously discussed, from April 2009 to April 2013, the total number 
of initial, original compensation and pension claims (excluding death 
benefits), i.e., claims which may be initiated informally but for which 
a standard form is eventually required, received nationally was 
1,671,810. By comparison, the total number of claims for increase or to 
reopen a previously denied claim, i.e., claims for which a standard 
form is not required, received nationally was 3,184,863. Since VA does 
not record data on specifically the number of informal claims received, 
the figures capture both informal and formal claims for original 
compensation and pension claims (excluding death benefits) and increase 
in benefits and claims to reopen. Claims for an increase in benefits or 
to reopen a previously denied claim frequently do not specify the 
benefits sought. Therefore, VA has to determine what benefit the 
claimant is seeking by contacting the claimant and/or claimant's 
authorized representative. Where the claimant submits statements in 
support of his or her pending claim, VA has to determine whether the 
statements can be construed as informal claims for other benefits 
unrelated to the pending claim. Reviewing and clarifying these non-
standard submissions is extremely time consuming, and can also lead to 
claims being overlooked and not adjudicated.

B. Appeals

    When the AOJ renders a decision affecting the payment of benefits 
or the granting of relief, it will provide a claimant with notice of 
the decision and his or her appellate rights. 38 U.S.C. 5104; 38 CFR 
3.103(b)(1). Appellate review by the Board of an AOJ decision is 
initiated by a timely filed NOD. 38 U.S.C. 7105(a). Upon receipt of an 
NOD, the AOJ is required to ``undertake such development or review 
action as it deems proper'' in an attempt resolve the claim, either 
through ``granting the benefit sought or though withdrawal of the 
[NOD].'' 38 U.S.C. 7105(d)(1). If the disagreement cannot be resolved, 
an appeal is completed by a timely filed Substantive Appeal after a 
Statement of the Case (SOC) is furnished. 38 U.S.C. 7105 (a), (d)(1) 
and (3); 38 CFR 20.200, 20.202. A claimant, or his or her 
representative, must submit an NOD in writing within 1 year (or 60 days 
for simultaneously contested claims) from the date of mailing of the 
notice of the initial adjudicative determination by the AOJ. 38 U.S.C. 
7105(b).
    Currently, VA will accept ``[a] written communication from a 
claimant or his or her representative expressing dissatisfaction or 
disagreement with an adjudicative determination by the [AOJ] and a 
desire to contest the result'' as an NOD. 38 CFR 20.201. If the AOJ 
receives a timely filed written communication expressing disagreement, 
but cannot clearly identify that communication as expressing an intent 
to appeal, or cannot identify which claims the claimant wants to 
appeal, the AOJ will contact the claimant orally such as by telephone 
or in person or in writing to request clarification of his or her 
intent. Id. Sec.  19.26(b). If the claimant is contacted orally or in 
writing, then he or she must respond to the clarification request 
within the later of 60 days or the remainder of the 1-year period from 
the date of mailing of the notice of the AOJ decision. Id. Sec.  
19.26(c). Both VA's current rule and its predecessor make clear that an 
NOD can be in any format, so long as it is in writing and can be 
``reasonably construed'' as seeking appellate review. Id. Sec.  20.201 
(``special wording is not required''); see also 38 CFR 19.118 (1983).
    After a timely NOD is received, the AOJ must undertake any 
necessary development actions. Id. Sec.  19.26(a). If such development 
does not result in resolving the disagreement in the claimant's favor, 
then the AOJ must send the claimant an SOC, which provides further 
information regarding the reasons for the decision and the law and the 
evidence considered in reaching the decision. 38 U.S.C. 7105(d)(1); 38 
CFR 19.29. The claimant has 60 days from the date the SOC is issued or 
the remainder of the 1-year period from the date of mailing of the 
notification of the decision being appealed, whichever period ends 
later, to complete his or her appeal to the Board by filing a 
Substantive Appeal. 38 U.S.C. 7105(d)(3); 38 CFR 20.302(b).

III. Challenges

    VA is facing an unprecedented volume of compensation claims, and is 
experiencing unacceptable delays at every phase of its process for 
adjudicating claims and appeals. As of August 24, 2013, the Veterans 
Benefits Administration (VBA), which processes claims for monetary 
benefits, had 760,820 compensation and pension claims pending. Four 
hundred seventy-one thousand, six hundred fifty (471,650) were 
considered part of the ``backlog,'' meaning they were pending longer 
than VA's goal of 125 days. This means that 62 percent of the claims 
inventory was pending longer than VA's operational goal. VA experienced 
roughly a 46 percent increase in annual claims receipts from 888,000 in 
fiscal year (FY) 2008, to 1.3 million in FY 2011. VBA has processed 
over 1 million compensation claims each of the last 3 fiscal years (FY 
2010-FY 2012), but the total volume of claims receipts has outpaced 
production. Additionally, the number of medical conditions contained in 
each claim has increased, leading to greater complexity for each claim.
    Many factors contribute to the backlog by increasing both the 
volume and complexity of claims. Some factors external to VA include 10 
years of war with increased survival rates, post-conflict downsizing of 
the military, and a difficult economy. Other factors include greatly 
increased VA outreach, the decision to afford presumptive service-
connection to additional conditions for exposure to herbicides, and 
special evidentiary rules for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
    However, many features of VA's current claims process also 
contribute to the backlog, or at a minimum hamper VA's ability to 
address the backlog. Most inputs into the claims process, such as 
claimant submissions, are still received in paper format. Further, many 
submissions, including submissions requiring VA to take action, are not 
received in a standard format. This increases time spent determining 
whether a claim has been filed, identifying the benefit claimed, 
sending letters to the claimant and awaiting a response, and requesting 
and awaiting receipt of evidence. These steps all significantly delay 
the adjudication and delivery of benefits to veterans and their 
families. By placing significant burdens on VA, these informal 
submissions slow down the adjudication for all veterans, including 
those who do submit complete claims on standardized forms. By requiring 
the use of standard forms for all claims, VA would be able to more 
easily identify issues and contentions associated with claims that are 
filed, resulting in greater accuracy, efficiency, and speed in the 
processing and adjudication of claims, which benefits both the 
individual claimant and all veterans who have filed claims.
    Similar challenges exist for appeals. While the Board is 
responsible for issuing VA's final decision on a benefits claim, much 
of the appellate processing that takes place between an initial AOJ 
decision and the Board's disposition of an appeal is performed by VBA. 
Accordingly, this appellate processing is performed by the same pool of 
resources

[[Page 65493]]

that must be used to process initial claims.
    In FY 2011, the average length of time between receipt of an NOD at 
the AOJ and certification of an appeal to the Board was 883 days. Board 
of Veterans' Appeals, Department of Veterans Affairs, Report of the 
Chairman: Fiscal Year 2011, at 18 (2012). An average of 257 days of 
this period resulted from the time elapsed between the date of receipt 
of the NOD and the date of the AOJ's issuance of an SOC. Id. Similarly, 
in FY 2012, the average appellate processing time at the AOJ from 
receipt of an NOD to certification of an appeal to the Board was 1,002 
days, with 270 days of that period elapsing between receipt of the NOD 
and issuance of the SOC. Board of Veterans' Appeals, Department of 
Veterans Affairs, Report of the Chairman: Fiscal Year 2012, at 19 
(2013).
    VA is aggressively pursuing a comprehensive transformation in order 
to respond to these challenges. VBA must use its limited resources as 
efficiently as possible, striking the optimal balance between 
resolution of initial claims and timely appeals processing. To be 
successful, any effort to quicken processing must assume ongoing 
workload challenges relative to VA's operating resources, and therefore 
focus on process improvements and efficiency gains. However, VA must 
also ensure that efforts to make the process more efficient do not also 
unduly erode the longstanding informal, non-adversarial, pro-claimant 
nature of the VA system. See Walters v. Nat'l Ass'n of Radiation 
Survivors, 473 U.S. 305, 323-24 (1985).
    This proposed rule aims to strike an appropriate balance between 
these interests by increasing the role of standard forms. Use of 
standard forms greatly facilitates efficient and accurate claims 
processing. A VBA adjudicator can more readily identify the benefits 
sought and contentions that are relevant to the claim when inputs are 
received in a predictable, regularly occurring way rather than in an 
open-ended narrative format. Further, even if a claimant prefers to 
interact with VA through paper, submissions received in a standard 
format can be much more easily scanned and turned into data for 
purposes of processing a claim within VA's own business applications. 
In this way, this proposed rule would apply some of the efficiencies 
previously only enjoyed by particular subsets of claims, such as fully 
developed claims (FDCs), to the entire claims system. The intent of 
this proposed rule is to streamline and modernize the VBA claims and 
appeals process in order to expedite and maximize the delivery of 
benefits to veterans and their families.

IV. Modernized Claims Process

    VBA has implemented a series of initiatives in eliminating the 
backlog of claims and has deployed technology solutions to end its 
reliance on the outmoded paper-intensive processes that thwart timely 
and accurate claims processing. These solutions consist of several Web-
based paperless claims systems. eBenefits is an online benefits account 
that veterans and their families can use to apply for and manage their 
VA benefits. Claimants can fill out and submit a fully paperless claim 
online. The Stakeholder Enterprise Portal (SEP) allows Veterans Service 
Organizations (VSO) to assist claimants in completing a claim through 
eBenefits. The Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) is an 
internal VA business application for electronic claims processing, 
which facilitates streamlined development of electronic claims. VBMS 
facilitates the evidence-gathering phase of the claims process, and 
employs evaluation and rules-based decision-support tools to increase 
the speed and accuracy of rating decisions.
    When a claimant files a claim electronically through eBenefits, he 
or she is guided through a series of interview-style questions that are 
taken directly from the questions found in VA Form 21-526EZ, 
Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation 
Benefits. eBenefits' interview-style process prompts the claimant to 
provide pertinent data such as non-evidentiary facts that will be 
necessary to develop the claim. eBenefits also prompts the claimant to 
identify the benefits sought. The claimant can select responses to the 
questions and enter a selection from a list of disabilities provided 
and can also manually enter disabilities related to the claimed 
benefit. eBenefits then automatically populates all of the claimant's 
responses into VA Form 21-526EZ and provides claimant with section 5103 
notice for every type of benefit identified in the electronic claims 
process. The claimant also has the option of uploading evidence into 
the program by scanning in paper evidence or attaching electronic 
documents with the application. Once the electronic form is completed, 
the claimant can file the claim by electronically transmitting the 
claim with a press of a button. VA will receive the electronic claim 
within 1 hour.
    Since eBenefits provides step-by-step guidance in filling out the 
online form, it may ease the claimant's burden in filling out the 
application and provide a more convenient method of submitting the 
claim, as the claimant does not have to apply at the VA regional 
office. The Web-based electronic claims processing system also ensures 
more accurate responses from the claimant as well as a more 
consistently completed form. The nature and format of the interview in 
eBenefits prompts claimants to answer all pertinent questions in order 
to obtain information necessary to substantiate the claim, checks for 
errors and missing information, and readdresses any unanswered 
questions, of all which ensure more accurate claims processing and 
adjudication, resulting in expedited delivery of benefits to claimants.
    Apart from the specific advantages of eBenefits, a paperless system 
is superior to a paper-bound system for many reasons. First, a paper 
claims file can only be in a single place at once, making it far more 
difficult to route different medical issues to specialists around the 
country for consideration. Electronic claims can be separated by issue 
and brokered for simultaneous, rather than sequential, consideration by 
various centers of excellence specializing in specific types of medical 
issue around the country. Second, paper claims files can be lost, 
damaged, or destroyed. These risks are far lower for electronic files. 
Third, paper files must be searched and reviewed page-by-page. This is 
a significant limitation because many of the claims files handled by VA 
are of considerable size. An AOJ adjudicator looking for a particular 
contention or piece of evidence must literally thumb through thousands 
of pages in each file. For electronic files, robust optical character 
recognition capabilities make it possible to search thousands of pages 
in a fraction of the time required to search paper files. Fourth, paper 
files are heavy and take up enormous amounts of physical space, 
creating a challenging work environment for AOJ personnel. One of VA's 
RO's required structural improvements in order to accommodate the sheer 
weight of paper files. Finally, even if VA's own business processes are 
fully paperless, paper submissions must be manually scanned into VBMS, 
adding an extra time-intensive step for paper submissions. A piece of 
mail must be identified, sorted, sent to a scanning facility, and meta-
data must be entered. The nationwide average delay between when a piece 
of mail is received, and when it can actually be processed by an AOJ 
adjudicator using VBMS, is 22.6 days. This delay does not exist for 
submissions that are initially received in an electronic format.

[[Page 65494]]

V. Changes to Claims Rules Can Drive Modernization

    VA has determined that changes to its rules governing claims are 
necessary in order to facilitate a transition to a modernized, more 
efficient process that is less reliant on paper. In order to 
incentivize the submission of claims in a standard format for more 
effective and efficient claims processing, VA proposes to replace the 
terminology ``informal claim'' with ``incomplete claim'' and ``complete 
claim'' and establish effective date treatment of incomplete claims 
based on the format used in submission. Generally, a ``complete claim'' 
would be a form prescribed by the Secretary for the purposes of 
initiating a claim that is fully filled out, to include identifying the 
benefits sought. An ``incomplete claim'' would generally be a written 
communication expressing a desire for benefits that falls short of the 
standards for a complete claim, similar to the current standard for an 
``informal claim.''
    VA has authority to replace the current ``informal claim'' concept 
with a different process. No statute envisions or requires VA's current 
``informal claims'' rule--it is entirely a feature of VA's regulations. 
Accordingly, VA has authority to alter the contours of the rule to 
produce a claims processing system that is better suited to veterans' 
current needs.
    VA is required to furnish all instructions and forms necessary to 
apply for a benefit upon request made by any person claiming or 
applying for, or expressing an intent to claim or apply for, a benefit. 
38 U.S.C. 5102(a). While VA will continue to furnish the appropriate 
forms to claimants, a submission on a prescribed paper form that is not 
complete, paper statements or electronic mail, whether submitted 
through eBenefits or otherwise, indicating a desire for benefits would 
not be considered a claim of any kind, and would not be the basis for 
an effective date prior to the date of the complete claim. However, 
claimants who file an incomplete electronic claim within eBenefits 
would receive up to 1 year to complete the claim.
    For purposes of clarification, we would like to explain some terms 
used in describing the electronic claims process. VA considers an act 
of ``submitting'' to encompass the process of entering into the 
eBenefits system, filling out the online application through the series 
of interview questions, and electronically saving the application. If 
the claimant saves the online application, whether completely filled 
out or not, and does not transmit the online application for 
processing, the application will be saved and stored in eBenefits for 1 
year. These electronically stored, non-transmitted online 
application(s) are considered ``incomplete'' electronic claims. When 
the claimant transmits the online application for processing and 
adjudication, VA considers this act of transmitting the application as 
the final step in ``filing'' the electronic claim.
    If a claimant files a completed electronic claim within 1 year of 
the initial submission of an incomplete electronic claim, the completed 
claim will be considered filed as of the date the incomplete electronic 
claim was electronically saved or stored in eBenefits for effective 
date purposes. The date the completed claim is transmitted would start 
the toll on the ``age'' of the electronic claim. We anticipate that 
claims filed through VA's Web-based electronic claims processing system 
would be processed and adjudicated more expeditiously and efficiently 
than in the paper-based claims processing and would not contribute to 
the claims backlog as much as the traditional paper-based processing 
system.
    This electronic claims process aligns claimant incentives with the 
interests of efficient and effective claims processing. A claimant 
receives the fastest possible grant of benefits if a claimant submits 
all evidence the claimant is able to procure in a complete package that 
facilitates efficient processing. However, claimants understandably are 
often reluctant to wait until all evidence is assembled before 
submitting a claim, since it is the submission of the claim which 
generally establishes the effective date of an award of benefits.\1\ 
See 38 U.S.C. 5110(a). This proposed rule would allow claimants to 
establish an effective date ``placeholder'' in VA's electronic systems, 
procure all necessary evidence, and submit everything in a single 
completed claim. When claimants submit claims and evidence in this way, 
the time VA must spend to clarify, develop, and decide the claim are 
all minimized. In order to incentivize electronic submissions over 
paper submissions, VA proposes to make this effective date 
``placeholder'' possible only for electronic incomplete claims. 
Further, identifying incomplete claims in VA's eBenefits system is much 
simpler than the cumbersome task of identifying informal paper claims. 
Accordingly, this proposed rule would preserve the beneficial 
effective-date feature of the current informal claim rule but, by tying 
that feature to the electronic claims process, would reduce the 
burdens, uncertainty, and delay associated with the current paper claim 
process.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \1\ There are certain exceptions to this rule such as claims 
received within 1-year of discharge from service. Generally, the 
date of receipt of claim establishes the effective date of an award.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    We note that standard forms such as the 21-526EZ contain section 
5103 notice. Similarly, eBenefits provides the section 5103 notice to 
claimants as part of the submission process. Increased use of the 
electronic claims process and standard forms such as the 526EZ 
therefore implies that more claimants will receive their section 5103 
notice some way other than in a separate notice letter.
    In Public Law 112-154, Congress made clear that VA is authorized to 
provide section 5103 notice to claimants through the use of standard 
forms. VA believes Congress' intent was to make the section 5103 notice 
process less sequential in order to expedite the processing of claims. 
Congress deleted ``[u]pon receipt of a complete or substantially 
complete application'' from the first sentence of 38 U.S.C. 5103. The 
first sentence of that section now reads, ``[t]he Secretary shall 
provide to the claimant and the claimant's representative, if any, by 
the most effective means available, including electronic communication 
or notification in writing, notice of any information, and any medical 
or lay evidence not previously provided to the Secretary that is 
necessary to substantiate the claim.'' VA interprets this statutory 
change as clear authority to satisfy notice requirements in the most 
efficient way possible, without altering the important substantive role 
that notice plays in the claims process.
    A House Committee Report discussing proposed bill language that was 
ultimately incorporated in Public Law 112-154 makes clear that VA's 
interpretation is consistent with Congress' intent in amending section 
5103. Congress recognized the crucial role that Veterans Claims 
Assistance Act (VCAA) notice plays in the claims process, but also 
noted ``unintended consequences, including court interpretations, of 
VCAA that have resulted in delays in claims processing . . . the 
Committee believes that sensible modifications can be made to VCAA 
without undoing the intent of VCAA, while also expediting the claims 
process.'' H.R. Rep. 112-241 at 9. Clearly the intent of the statutory 
change was to ``remove the requirement that the VCAA notice be sent 
only after receipt of a claim,'' and the framers of this legislation 
explicitly envisioned that VA would implement these

[[Page 65495]]

statutory changes by putting notice on ``new claims forms, as is 
currently done with the Department's 526-EZ form for Fully Developed 
Claims (FDC).'' Id.
    While notice on claims forms would necessarily result in notice 
relating generally to the type of benefit claim being submitted rather 
than notice concerning specific circumstances of the individual 
claimant, such notice is all section 5103 requires. Wilson v. 
Mansfield, 506 F.3d 1055, 1059-60 (Fed. Cir. 2007). Nothing in Public 
Law 112-154 alters this conclusion. The decision by the United States 
Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Wilson was based on the 
statutory language requiring that VA provide notice ``of any 
information, and any medical or lay evidence, not previously provided 
to the Secretary that is necessary to substantiate the claim.'' 38 
U.S.C. 5103 (2012). This operative language has not been amended.
    To the extent there is any inconsistency between VA's current 
notice and assistance rules and the current statute as amended by 
Public Law 112-154, the statute clearly governs. VA is examining 
whether 38 CFR 3.159 should be amended to account for the new statute, 
but believes the statute is clear authority for the changes affecting 
how VA provides notice that we propose here.

VI. Mechanics--Proposed Changes to Part 3, Subpart A

    We propose the following changes to 38 CFR part 3, subpart A in 
order to execute this modernization of VA's claims process.
    In proposed Sec.  3.1(p), we would define ``Claim'' to mean ``a 
written communication requesting a determination of entitlement or 
evidencing a belief in entitlement, to a specific benefit under the 
laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.'' This 
definition would replace the current definition of ``Claim--
Application'' which is defined as ``a formal or informal communication 
in writing requesting a determination of entitlement or evidencing a 
belief in entitlement, to a benefit'' in current paragraph (p). The 
current definition is confusing and does not make clear the difference 
between a ``claim'' and an ``application.'' Therefore, we would clarify 
the current definition by eliminating the words ``Application,'' 
``formal,'' and ``informal'' in our proposed definition in order to 
conform with the proposed amendments to the adjudication regulations.
    Currently, VA does not require that claims for entitlement under 38 
U.S.C. 1151, which provides disability compensation and death benefits 
for a qualifying disability or death of a veteran from VA treatment, 
examination, or vocational rehabilitation, be submitted or filed on a 
standard form or application. 38 U.S.C. 1151 (2006); 38 CFR 3.150(c), 
3.154, 3.361. Since we are amending VA's adjudication regulations to 
require that all claims be filed on standard forms prescribed by the 
Secretary, we propose to revise Sec.  3.150 by removing paragraph (c), 
which provides that when disability or death is due to VA hospital 
treatment, training, medical or surgical treatment, or examination, a 
specific application for benefits will not be initiated. We also 
propose revising Sec.  3.154, which provides that ``VA may accept as a 
claim for benefits under 38 U.S.C. 1151 . . . any communication in 
writing indicating an intent to file a claim for disability 
compensation or dependency and indemnity compensation,'' to require 
claimants to file or submit a complete paper or electronic claim in 
order to apply for benefits under 38 U.S.C. 1151 and Sec.  3.361, the 
regulation governing the criteria of entitlement to 38 U.S.C. 1151 
benefits. 38 U.S.C. 1151; 38 CFR 3.150 and 3.154.
    VA's intent is to modernize the claims processing system by 
standardizing the format in which all disability claims would be 
received. In order for AOJ personnel to readily identify claims and 
process them efficiently, it is imperative that all claims appear in 
easily identifiable formats, using a standardized form. Claims 
explicitly encouraged to be submitted in non-standard ways are 
inconsistent with that model and would undermine the predictability 
that will make standardization successful. Accordingly, VA proposes to 
require that even claims based on disability or death due to VA 
hospital care, medical or surgical treatment, examination, training and 
rehabilitation services or compensated work therapy program under be 
initiated by completing and filing a standard form. VA believes that 
using a standard form is a minimal burden to place on claimants, even 
those who may be due compensation as a result of VA's own errors in 
providing medical treatment.
    In proposed Sec.  3.155, we would replace the current concept of 
``informal claims'' with the modernized process we describe in parts IV 
and V of this notice.
    In this rule, we propose to establish claims and effective date 
rules that would govern the VA system after this proposed rule becomes 
final. We would clarify that this process would apply to all claims 
governed by part 3 of title 38 in the Code of Federal Regulations.
    In paragraph (a), we propose to make clear that a complete non-
electronic claim is considered filed as of the date it was received by 
VA. Paper or other communications, including electronic communications 
received outside a claims submission tool within a VA Web-based 
electronic claims application system that fall short of the standards 
of a complete claim would not constitute claims of any kind, incomplete 
or otherwise, and could not be the basis of an effective date prior to 
the date the complete claim was submitted. Accordingly, there is no 
``incomplete claim'' standard that is applicable to this paragraph. We 
propose to make clear, in conjunction with proposed Sec.  3.160(a), 
that this rule applies regardless of the reason a given submission 
falls short of the standards of a complete claim, i.e., whether because 
it is received in a non-standard format, or because the form prescribed 
by the Secretary is not fully filled out, i.e., lacks sufficient 
information for VA to adjudicate the claim.
    In paragraph (b), we propose to create a standard for incomplete 
claims that affords the possibility of favorable effective date 
treatment. Any communication submitted through or action taking place 
in a claims submission tool within a VA Web-based electronic claims 
application system that indicates an intent to apply for one or more 
benefits administered by VA that does not meet the standards of a 
complete claim may be considered an incomplete claim. If a complete 
electronic claim is filed within 1 year of the submission of the 
incomplete electronic claim, the electronic claim would be considered 
filed as of the date of submission of the incomplete electronic claim.
    The limitation that the communication must take place within an 
online benefits account is necessary to prevent open-ended narrative 
format submissions, such as unsolicited emails, from constituting 
incomplete claims. The further limitation that the communication must 
be submitted through a claims submission tool within VA's Web-based 
electronic application system is to ensure that non-standard 
communications, such as emails within the eBenefits system, do not 
constitute incomplete claims merely because they took place within 
eBenefits. VA must be careful to define incomplete claims in a way that 
channels claimant submissions through a predictable, standardized 
process.
    In proposed paragraph (c), we would specify that certain 
communications or

[[Page 65496]]

actions do not constitute claims of any kind, and are considered a 
request for an application for benefits under 38 CFR 3.150(a). We would 
clarify this rule with greater particularity in the three scenarios 
where we expect this issue to arise. We would place the three scenarios 
in paragraphs (c)(1) through (c)(3). Paragraph (c)(1) references non-
standardized communications or actions, paragraph (c)(2) references a 
form prescribed by the Secretary that is not complete, and paragraph 
(c)(3) references an email sent to VA, whether to a general mailbox or 
through VA's electronic benefits portal. By using the phrase ``without 
limitation'' we would make clear that paragraphs (c)(1) through (c)(3) 
are explanations of how the general rule enunciated in the main text of 
paragraphs (a) and (b) applies in certain scenarios. A communication or 
action governed by paragraph (a) or (b) that does not perfectly mirror 
one of the scenarios addressed in paragraphs (c)(1) through (c)(3), but 
still falls short of the standards of a complete claim, would not be 
the basis for an effective date prior to the date the complete claim 
was submitted, unless it meets the requirements for processing under 
paragraph (b).
    Most incomplete electronic claims will likely be incomplete on 
purpose, in order to serve as effective date ``placeholders'' until all 
evidence is gathered. However, VA acknowledges the possibility that a 
claimant would submit the claim believing it to be complete, but VA 
would later determine the claim is incomplete. In this situation, VA 
will tell the claimant what information is necessary to complete the 
claim as required by 38 U.S.C. 5102.
    We also propose to make clear that only one complete electronic 
claim may be associated with each incomplete electronic claim for 
purposes of this special effective date rule. In other words, if a 
claimant files one incomplete electronic claim, and then files two or 
more successive complete electronic claims within 1 year, only issues 
contained within the first complete electronic claim would relate back 
to the incomplete electronic claim for effective date purposes. For 
example, if VA receives an incomplete claim on January 1, 2014, and 
then receives two successive complete claims on August 1, 2014, and on 
November 1, 2014, VA would assign an effective date of January 1, 2014, 
i.e., the date the incomplete claim was received, for the issues 
contained within the first complete claim received on August 1, 2014. 
For the issues contained in the complete claim received on November 1, 
2014, VA would assign an effective date of November 1, 2014, the date 
the second complete claim was filed or received by the VA. However, 
there would be no limit on the number of issues or conditions that 
could be contained in each complete claim. Accordingly, it would be in 
claimants' best interest to claim all potential issues in one 
comprehensive package.
    VA believes this proposed rule is less apt to cause confusion than 
the alternative, which would allow claimants to submit several claims 
over the course of a year while still relating back to the earliest 
effective date. This alternative rule would encourage fragmented 
presentation of claims, which may complicate and delay the development 
and disposition of already pending claims by causing duplicative VA 
processing actions or creating confusion regarding the development 
actions that must be taken for each claim.
    Although claimants may submit new claims at any time, it is far 
more efficient to submit all issues in a single unified claim. In 
proposed Sec.  3.160, we would define certain types of claims in a way 
that is meant to complement the structure we would create in proposed 
Sec.  3.155.
    In proposed Sec.  3.160(a), we would define a complete claim as 
``[a] submission on a paper or electronic form prescribed by the 
Secretary that is fully filled out and provides all requested 
information.'' In paragraphs (a)(1) through (a)(4), we would then 
enumerate certain requirements that we view as embedded within this 
general rule. In paragraph (a)(1), we would make clear that a complete 
claim must be signed whether electronically or manually by the claimant 
or a person legally authorized to sign for the claimant. In paragraph 
(a)(2), we would make clear that a complete claim must identify the 
benefit sought.
    In paragraph (a)(3), we would clarify that for compensation claims, 
a description of symptoms and specific medical conditions on which the 
benefit is to be based must be provided to whatever extent the form 
prescribed by the Secretary so requires, or else the form may not be 
considered complete. Similarly, in paragraph (a)(4), we would clarify 
that for nonservice-connected disability or death pension and parents' 
dependency and indemnity compensation claims, a statement of income 
must be provided to the extent the form prescribed by the Secretary so 
requires in order for the claim to be considered complete. Our intent 
is to make as clear as possible that information solicited by a form 
prescribed by the Secretary must be provided, and incomplete forms do 
not constitute claims. However, it is not VA's intent to reject forms 
for minor ministerial or formalistic deficiencies. A form prescribed by 
the Secretary would only be deemed incomplete if it is missing 
information necessary to the efficient, fair, and orderly adjudication 
of the claim.
    In proposed paragraph (b), we would refer back to proposed Sec.  
3.155 for the definition of an incomplete claim, since the contours of 
what constitutes an incomplete claim would vary according to paper or 
electronic format as already discussed.
    In proposed paragraph (c), we would define an original claim as the 
initial complete claim for one or more benefits on a form prescribed by 
the Secretary, and make clear that all subsequent claims are new and 
supplemental claims, which we would define in paragraph (d). In 
proposed paragraph (d), we would identify certain kinds of claims which 
constitute new and supplemental claims. These paragraphs are not meant 
to affect the substantive entitlement to the benefits discussed. 
However, paragraphs (c) and (d), together with operation of proposed 
Sec.  3.155, would make clear that claims for these benefits must be 
initiated on standard forms.
    In proposed paragraph (e), we would update the existing definition 
of ``pending claim,'' which is currently defined as ``an application, 
formal or informal, which has not been finally adjudicated'' by 
replacing the phrase ``an application, formal or informal'' with the 
word ``claim.'' In proposed paragraph (f), we would update the existing 
definition of ``finally adjudicated claim,'' currently defined as ``an 
application, formal or informal, which has been allowed or disallowed . 
. .'' by replacing the phrase ``an application, formal or informal'' 
with the word ``claim.'' Since VA proposes to eliminate the term 
``informal claim,'' we would remove references to the phrase or words, 
``informal'' and ``formal'' for consistency in the existing definitions 
to reflect the proposed change to eliminate ``informal claims.'' These 
subsections are not meant to alter the law of finality in the VA 
benefits system. See Cook v. Principi, 318 F.3d 1334, 1339-41 (Fed. 
Cir. 2002) (en banc).
    In proposed paragraph (g), we would continue the definition of 
``reopened claim'' that appears in current Sec.  3.160(e) with slight 
modifications to insert ``new and material evidence'' as clarification 
of VA's existing criteria for reopening a previously denied claim.
    In proposed paragraph (h), we would explain that a claim for an 
increase in

[[Page 65497]]

currently awarded benefits may consist of a claim for an increased 
evaluation for a specific disability, or an increase in benefits based 
on supplemental benefits such as aid and attendance, housebound, 
special monthly compensation, and certain special allowances. Also 
within this category are claims for increased ratings based on total 
disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU), unless that 
contention is being made in an original claim. It is VA's intent that a 
request for an increase accompanied by evidence of unemployability 
continue to constitute a claim for TDIU, but the claim for increase 
itself must be filed on a standard form. VA believes this would 
simplify and clarify the processing of TDIU claims, without affecting 
the substantive law governing TDIU. A request for resumption of 
payments previously discontinued would also be considered a claim for 
increase and accordingly would have to be filed on a standard form.
    We propose to remove current Sec.  3.157, which generally provides 
that reports of examination or hospitalization can constitute informal 
claims, including claims to increase or reopen. In implementing one 
consistent standard for the claims process, we propose to eliminate 
informal claims for increase or to reopen based on receipt of VA 
treatment, examination, or hospitalization reports, private physician 
medical reports, or state, county, municipal, or other government 
medical facilities to establish a retroactive effective date as 
provided in current Sec. Sec.  3.155(c) and 3.157. The idea that 
certain records or statements themselves constitute constructive claims 
is simply inconsistent with the standardization and efficiency VA 
intends to accomplish with this proposed rule.
    However, VA fully appreciates that while a veteran is hospitalized 
or receiving crucial medical treatment, a veteran may be more focused 
on his or her health than on pursuing a claim for compensation. VA has 
no desire to preclude veterans from receiving benefits for periods of 
hospitalization or medical treatment--VA only wishes to receive inputs 
in a standard format in order to serve veterans as efficiently as 
possible.
    Therefore, in place of current Sec. Sec.  3.155 (c) and 3.157, VA 
proposes to amend Sec.  3.400(o)(2) to explain that a retroactive 
effective date may be granted, when warranted by the facts found, based 
on date of treatment, examination, or hospitalization from any medical 
facility, if the claimant files a complete claim for increase within 1 
year of such medical care. The proposed amendment preserves the 
favorable substantive features of the current treatment of reports of 
examination or hospitalization under Sec.  3.157, but requires 
claimants to file a complete claim for increase within 1 year after 
medical care was received.
    Current Sec.  3.400(o)(2) provides that the effective date of an 
increase in disability compensation will be the earliest date on which 
it is factually ascertainable that an increase in disability had 
occurred if a claim is received within 1 year from such date. 
Otherwise, the increase will be effective as of the date of receipt of 
the claim. The proposed amendment would make clear that medical records 
from any source, indicating an increase in disability, may provide a 
basis for such retroactive effective date if a complete claim is 
received within 1 year of the date of the medical treatment, 
examination, or hospitalization.
    Finally, we propose minor amendments to Sec.  3.812 governing a 
special allowance under Public Law 97-377. We would replace the 
terminology ``formal'' and ``informal'' claims with ``complete'' and 
``incomplete'' claims, as appropriate, to ensure consistency with the 
rest of the proposed rule.

VII. Appeals: Working Group and Houston Pilot

    In October 2011, recognizing that VA needed to decrease appellate 
processing times to ensure that claimants receive more timely decisions 
on their appeals, VA created an intradepartmental working group to 
address the overall timeliness and quality of appellate processing.
    After analyzing VA's appellate process, the working group 
determined that different changes would be needed to address different 
phases of the VA appellate process. One of the periods addressed was 
the time it takes the AOJ to issue an SOC after receipt of an NOD. The 
working group identified two factors within VA's control that affect 
this time period: (1) The NOD control time, which is how long it takes 
AOJ staff to identify a document submitted by a claimant or 
representative as an NOD and route it to the appropriate personnel for 
processing, and (2) the time it takes the AOJ to understand and clarify 
the nature of the veteran's disagreement.
    The working group found that lengthy control times are in large 
part the result of the non-standardized way in which NODs are 
submitted. VA's practice of requiring only that an NOD be ``in terms 
which can be reasonably construed as disagreement . . . and a desire 
for appellate review,'' 38 CFR 20.201, has led to substantial variation 
in the statements that claimants submit to express disagreement with an 
AOJ's initial adjudication or an intent to appeal. AOJ personnel are 
required to read through the enormous volume of documents that VA 
receives from claimants every day in order to determine whether a 
statement embedded in any of these documents may ``be reasonably 
construed'' as constituting an NOD. Therefore, the working group 
recognized that even identifying a given document as an NOD, or 
potentially containing a statement that might constitute an NOD, is a 
time-consuming process, lacking clear standards. Moreover, where a 
claimant expresses his or her disagreement with an AOJ decision, the 
claimant may not clearly identify the issue or issues with which he or 
she disagrees. As a result, AOJ personnel have to delay processing of 
the submission in order to contact the claimant orally or in writing to 
clarify his or her intent. Id. Sec.  19.26(b). The working group 
concluded that this situation causes delay and error as AOJ personnel 
may have difficulty identifying issues in ambiguous communication or 
incomplete NODs buried within correspondence, i.e., not on a standard 
form.
    Errors in identifying NODs can complicate otherwise straightforward 
claims. If AOJ personnel do not identify an NOD upon receipt, they will 
not route the document and claims file to the correct adjudicatory 
personnel to begin the appeal process. Thus, the document may not be 
identified as an NOD until a much later time, such as when an appeal of 
another issue reaches the Board and a Veterans Law Judge (VLJ) 
concludes that a document is an NOD and remands the case to the AOJ for 
issuance of an SOC. 38 CFR 19.9(c); see Manlincon v. West, 12 Vet. App. 
238, 240 (1999) (holding that the proper remedy when the Board finds 
that a timely NOD was filed, but an SOC was not issued, is for the 
Board to remand the case to the AOJ to issue an SOC). In FY 2011, the 
Board remanded 2,582 issues to the AOJ because the Board identified a 
timely filed NOD where the AOJ had not issued an SOC. Similarly, in FY 
2012, the Board remanded 3,008 issues for the same reason. These 
statistics demonstrate that NODs are often not being identified by AOJ 
personnel, a problem that can be traced to the broad and unclear 
requirements of current Sec.  20.201. When NODs are not initially 
identified as such, the length of the appellate process could extend 
for

[[Page 65498]]

years if it is the Board that initially identifies a document as an 
NOD. In June 2012, the Houston Regional Office (RO) took an average of 
456 days to issue an SOC after receipt of an NOD in a traditional 
format. This statistic takes into account the number of cases that were 
remanded by the Board for issuance of an SOC pursuant to Sec.  19.9(c) 
and was undoubtedly lengthened significantly by the presence of these 
cases.
    The working group concluded that creating a standardized form that 
claimants could submit as an NOD would make NODs easier for AOJ 
personnel to identify, thus helping to decrease the NOD control time, 
including the processing time necessary to clarify whether a document 
is an NOD under Sec.  19.26. The working group also concluded that a 
standardized form would have the added advantage of providing a minimal 
identification of the issue regarding which the veteran seeks appellate 
review, enabling AOJ personnel to more rapidly identify and conduct any 
needed development before either granting the benefit sought or issuing 
an SOC.
    Based on the working group's analysis, in March 2012, VA began a 
pilot program at the Houston RO to test the use of standard NOD forms. 
Pursuant to this program, when the RO sent out an initial decision, it 
included a standard NOD form with the notification letter, providing 
the claimant with the option of submitting the completed form if he or 
she disagreed with the decision. The form provided the claimant with 
the opportunity to specify the issues he or she was contesting and to 
identify the relief he or she was seeking. From the inception of this 
program, VA saw a significant decrease in the NOD control time for 
appeals initiated using the standard NOD form. For example, from March 
1, 2012 to January 31, 2013, the Houston RO's control time for a 
standard NOD was approximately 7 days. In contrast, from March 1, 2012 
to January 31, 2013, this RO's control time for pending NODs submitted 
in a traditional format averaged 88 days. These statistics show a 
markedly decreased control time at the Houston RO of approximately 81 
days averaging from March 1, 2012 to January 31, 2013. This analysis 
shows that by using the standard form for initiating an appeal, VA can 
process appeals more expeditiously, as requiring specificity concerning 
the appellant's contentions avoids confusion and the need to seek 
clarification from the appellant. By requiring the use of a standard 
NOD form, individual claimants as well as all appellants in the appeals 
process would benefit from shortened processing time and from increased 
accuracy in identifying contentions claimed.
    The working group also proposed other process and workflow 
improvements that were tested during the pilot. However, only the 
standardized NOD was designed to directly address NOD control time. VA 
believes that the dramatic improvements in control time discussed above 
are primarily due to the use of standardized NODs. Standardized NODs 
are also designed to work in conjunction with the working group's other 
suggested workflow improvements that do not themselves require 
regulatory change.
    Use of the standardized NOD enables AOJ personnel to more quickly 
conduct targeted development and consideration of a veteran's appeal. 
The clarity provided by standardized inputs can be expected to speed 
all phases of the appellate process. However, even assuming the 
standardized form only improves the early stages of the appellate 
process, VA believes that this is clearly a sufficient basis to mandate 
the use of a standard form for an NOD. Requiring claimants to submit 
their initial disagreement with an adjudicative determination of the 
AOJ on a standard form would clarify what actions claimants need to 
take to initiate an appeal of an AOJ determination. This in turn would 
improve VA's ability to identify NODs when they are received and would 
eliminate the need to contact claimants to clarify whether they 
intended to submit an NOD. This would help speed up the early steps of 
the appellate process, which can also prevent prolonged delays and 
speed up completion of the entire appeal. Additionally, requiring 
submission of a standard NOD form would promote more uniform treatment 
of NODs across all AOJ offices. VA believes the quality of the 
decisions made in appeals would also improve since the claimant would 
be able to clearly identify on the form the issues with which he or she 
disagrees.

VIII. Mandatory Standard NOD Forms

    VA, therefore, proposes to make the filing of a standard VA form 
the only way to submit an NOD in cases where the AOJ provides a form to 
the claimant for the purpose of initiating an appeal. VA fully 
appreciates that this proposal alters the current practice of accepting 
almost any statement of disagreement with an AOJ decision as an NOD. 
However, VA believes this step would be highly beneficial to veterans 
in light of lengthening appellate processing times, the dramatic 
increase in volume and complexity of compensation claims being received 
by VA, and the demonstrated improvement in appellate workflow in pilot 
testing of the standardized NOD.
    Mandating a standard form, rather than simply encouraging its use, 
is necessary to ensure the efficiency gains that standard forms make 
possible will be realized. The pilot program at the Houston RO has 
demonstrated that when provided with the option of submitting a 
standard NOD form, a substantial number of claimants choose to submit 
an NOD in another format. For example, in May 2012, approximately 52 
percent of the 479 NODs received at the Houston RO were submitted in a 
format other than the standard form, while in August 2012, 
approximately 40 percent of the 590 NODs submitted were filed in a 
format other than the standard form. Given these statistics, VA 
believes that continuing to allow the submission of NODs in any form a 
claimant chooses would not maximize the desired result of decreasing 
appellate processing time for all claimants.
    Further, if VA does not make the form mandatory, its positive 
impact would be greatly diluted even if veterans and their 
representatives made use of the form in the majority of appeals of AOJ 
decisions. If VA continues to accept NODs in any format, AOJ personnel 
would still be required to scour all claimant submissions and engage in 
the time-intensive interpretive exercise of determining whether a given 
document could ``be reasonably construed'' as an NOD. Rather than 
having certainty that a communication must be on a standard form, in 
order to constitute an NOD, AOJ personnel would thus still have to 
engage in much of the time-consuming clarification required by the 
current rule.
    Governing statutes permit VA to require that a claimant submit an 
NOD on a particular form. The applicable statutes require only that an 
NOD must be in writing and filed by the claimant or his or her 
representative with the VA activity that rendered the determination. 38 
U.S.C. 7105. Congress has specifically authorized VA to issue rules 
concerning ``the forms of application,'' 38 U.S.C. 501(a)(2), and has 
characterized a request for Board review as an ``[a]pplication for 
review on appeal.'' 38 U.S.C. 7106, 7108. The United States Court of 
Appeals for the Federal Circuit has recognized that the term ``notice 
of disagreement'' does not have a complete and unambiguous meaning in 
the statute. Gallegos v. Principi, 283 F.3d 1309, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 
2002). The statute does not define

[[Page 65499]]

``notice of disagreement'' or ``suggest sufficient expressions to make 
a writing an NOD.'' Id. VA interprets the lack of detail in section 
7105 regarding the requirements for an NOD, combined with the 
Secretary's clear authority in 38 U.S.C. 501(a) to promulgate ``all 
rules and regulations which are necessary or appropriate to carry out 
the laws administered by [VA],'' to represent a sufficient delegation 
of authority to VA to require that NODs be filed on a standardized 
form. Accordingly, specifying the form of such applications is within 
VA's specific delegated rule-making authority.

IX. Mechanics--Appeals

    Based on the foregoing, VA proposes to revise Sec.  20.201 to 
incorporate a standardized NOD requirement. In new paragraph (a), VA 
proposes to outline the requirements for appeals relating to cases in 
which the AOJ provides a standard form for the purpose of initiating an 
appeal. In paragraph (a)(1), entitled ``Format,'' VA proposes to state 
that, for every case in which the AOJ provides, in connection with its 
decision, a form identified as being for the purpose of initiating an 
appeal, an NOD would consist of a completed and timely submitted copy 
of that form. VA would not accept as an NOD any other submission 
expressing disagreement with an adjudicative determination by the AOJ.
    VA has chosen a flexible standard rather than identifying a 
particular form number or control number in the rule text in order to 
ensure the rule functions for all of VA's diverse operations. The 
standard for what constitutes an NOD applies to all VBA benefit lines, 
as well as the rest of VA. The form that VBA tested during the Houston 
RO pilot was designed for compensation claims. One of the key features 
of the form's design was that it solicited particular pieces of 
information relevant to a compensation claim. Requiring appeals of 
other benefits, such as home loan guaranty or education benefits, to be 
submitted using this form would likely be confusing to veterans. At the 
same time, the overwhelming majority of the VA appellate workload 
concerns appeals of AOJ decisions on claims for compensation. Board of 
Veterans' Appeals, Department of Veterans Affairs, Report of the 
Chairman: Fiscal Year 2012, at 22 (2013) (96.1 percent of Board 
dispositions in FY 2012 were for compensation claims). VA is concerned 
that making the NOD form so generic as to accommodate appeals of all 
benefits VA-wide would dilute much of the efficiency gain VA expects 
from mandating the use of standardized forms, and in particular the 
immediate efficiencies that might be realized in the compensation 
claims and appellate workload.
    Accordingly, the standard reflected in proposed Sec.  20.201(a)(1) 
was designed to produce a single rule that can function flexibly VA-
wide while allowing for the creation of forms that are functional for 
each VA benefits line. Additionally, Sec.  20.201(b) provides a 
``fallback'' standard for benefits where standardized appellate 
processing is not as pressing a need as it is with compensation claims. 
This approach allows for standard forms in VA benefits lines where the 
volume, complexity, and frequency of appeal call for standardization, 
without disrupting the administration of other benefits that are 
infrequently appealed. Under proposed Sec.  20.201(b), if VA does not 
provide a standard appeal form for a particular type of claim, the 
claim is governed by the current standard for what constitutes an NOD. 
As of the publication of this proposed rule, VA only expects regularly 
to provide a standard appeal form for compensation claims and similar 
monetary benefits claims. However, VA may choose to provide standard 
forms with AOJ decisions for other benefits lines as the volume and 
dynamics of VA's workload continue to evolve. Additionally, if VA fails 
to provide a standard appeal form to the claimant due to a case-
specific error, the claimant would still be able to initiate an appeal 
under the current standard for an NOD where a written communication 
expressing dissatisfaction or disagreement and a desire to contest the 
result will constitute an NOD. See proposed Sec.  20.201(b).
    The second sentence would make clear that if the AOJ provides a 
standard form with its decision, triggering the applicability of Sec.  
20.201(a), VA will not accept a document or communication in any other 
format as an NOD. VA believes this rule is necessary to make use of the 
standard form mandatory and maximize improvement and efficiency in the 
appellate process. Additionally, VA proposes to clarify that submitting 
a different VA form does not meet the standard for an NOD in cases 
governed by Sec.  20.201(a). Many VA forms, such as VA Form 21-4138, 
Statement in Support of Claim, are so generic that they would not yield 
the clarity and standardization this proposed rule change is designed 
to achieve.
    In the future, different standard forms may be developed for 
different benefit lines. Under this proposed rule, the particular 
version provided with the AOJ decision must be used. For example, if a 
claimant received an AOJ decision relating to a compensation claim and 
received a compensation-focused form (such as VA Form 21-0958, Notice 
of Disagreement) from the AOJ, the claimant could not initiate an 
appeal by returning a different form developed for the purpose of 
initiating appeals of AOJ decisions relating to home loan guaranty.
    In proposed Sec.  20.201(a)(2), we would make clear that VA may 
``provide'' the form to the claimant electronically or in paper format. 
VA proposes that if a claimant has an online benefits account such as 
eBenefits, notifications within the system that provide a link to a 
standard appeal form would be considered sufficient for the AOJ to have 
``provided'' the form to the claimant and trigger the applicability of 
Sec.  20.201(a). Similarly, if a claimant has provided VA with an email 
address for the purpose of receiving communications from VA, emailing 
either a copy of the form itself or a hyperlink where that form may be 
accessed is sufficient. The email should identify that the hyperlink is 
to a required VA appeal form.
    Finally, if a claimant has chosen to interact with VA through 
paper, VA would provide a paper version of the standard form in 
connection with its decision. The specific piece of paper that is sent 
to the claimant need not be returned in order to constitute an NOD, but 
the same form must be returned. In other words, if a claimant is sent a 
copy of a particular form, he or she must return a completed copy of 
that form, but not necessarily the same piece of paper that was mailed 
to the claimant.
    In Sec.  20.201(a)(3), we would make clear that any indication 
whatsoever in the claimant's claims file or benefits account of 
provision of a form would be sufficient to presume the form was 
provided, triggering the applicability of Sec.  20.201(a) rather than 
Sec.  20.201(b). Under this rule, an indication as minimal as a 
statement in a decision notification letter such as ``Attached: VA Form 
21-0958'' would be sufficient to trigger the presumption that the form 
was provided and Sec.  20.201(a) governs. See Butler v. Principi, 244 
F.3d 1337, 1339-41 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (presumption of regularity applies 
to the administration of veterans benefits). This would reflect 
existing law and VA practice. To avoid unnecessary record retention, 
when VA sends a standard form to a claimant, it ordinarily does not 
place a copy of that blank form in the claims file. However, other 
documents in the file may indicate that the form was sent. Courts have 
held that such indications support a presumption that

[[Page 65500]]

the form was in fact sent to the claimant. We believe it would be 
helpful to note this general principle in this rule.
    In Sec.  20.201(a)(4), we would make clear that, if a standard VA 
form requires some degree of specificity from the claimant as to which 
issues the claimant seeks to appeal, the claimant must indeed provide 
the information the form requests in order for the submission to 
constitute an NOD. Part of the rationale for requiring standard VA 
forms, particularly for the appeals of compensation claims, is that 
they enable VA to identify the substance of an appeal as early as 
possible in the process. Additionally, inputs from the claimant in a 
standardized format are much more easily turned into data that can be 
used in evaluating and processing a claim or appeal. Accordingly, when 
a form requests a specific contention from the claimant as to the 
issues appealed, we propose that the claimant be required to provide 
it. For example, the form used in the Houston RO pilot provided 
separate boxes allowing claimants to identify those issues with which 
they were expressing disagreement. VA believes it would be helpful to 
the process to have this requirement in the governing regulation.
    In Sec.  20.201(a)(5), we would make clear that the filing of an 
alternate form or other communication does not extend, toll, or 
otherwise delay the time limit for filing an NOD. We would make clear 
that returning the incorrect VA form, including a form designed to 
appeal a different benefit, would not extend the deadline for filing an 
NOD. VA believes enforcing this policy is necessary in order to bring 
efficiency to appeals processing.
    In proposed Sec.  20.201(c), we would make clear that we do not 
propose to require a standardized form for simultaneously contested 
claims, which are claims in which the award of benefits to one person 
may result in the disallowance or reduction of benefits to another 
person. 38 CFR 20.3(p). Such claims arise only rarely and, irrespective 
of the nature of the benefit sought, they commonly present unique 
issues involving marital or other relationships of different 
individuals claiming entitlement to the same or similar benefits based 
on their relationship to the same veteran. Further, in 38 U.S.C. 7105A, 
Congress has prescribed a 60-day time limit for filing NODs in 
simultaneously contested claims. In view of these claims unique 
features, we do not propose to alter the governing standards. Moreover, 
because simultaneously contested claims constitute a very small portion 
of VA's appellate caseload, excluding those claims from the requirement 
to use standardized forms will not significantly affect the objectives 
of this rule. We, therefore, propose to state in new paragraph (c) of 
Sec.  20.201 that the provisions of Sec.  20.201(b) apply to 
simultaneously contested claims. However, claimants in simultaneously 
contested claims could use a standard VA form, when feasible, even 
though they would not be required to do so.

X. Procedure for Standard NOD Forms

    VA proposes the creation of two new sections in part 19. New Sec.  
19.23 would generally clarify which procedures apply to appeals 
governed by proposed Sec.  20.201(a), and which apply to appeals 
governed by proposed Sec.  20.201(b). New Sec.  19.23(b) would clarify 
that current procedures in Sec. Sec.  19.26 through 19.28 would 
continue to apply to appeals of benefits decisions governed by Sec.  
20.201(b), and new Sec.  19.23(a) would make clear that these 
procedures would apply only to those cases. In other words, the 
provisions of Sec. Sec.  19.26 through 19.28 would apply only to 
appeals of AOJ decisions relating to cases in which no standard form 
was provided by the AOJ for the purpose of initiating an appeal. New 
Sec.  19.23(a) would clarify that the procedures in new Sec.  19.24 
would apply to appeals of AOJ decisions for cases in which the AOJ 
provides a form for the purpose of initiating an appeal, which are 
governed by Sec.  20.201(a). By creating this new clarifying section, 
VA hopes to eliminate any confusion potentially caused by the fact that 
Sec. Sec.  19.26 through 19.28 would no longer apply to the 
overwhelming majority of VA's appellate caseload, but must be retained 
for processing NODs relating to other benefits for which no 
standardized NOD form is provided.
    In paragraph (a) of proposed new Sec.  19.24, we would make clear 
that VA's practice of reexamining a claim whenever an NOD is received 
and determining if additional review or development is warranted would 
also apply to NODs submitted on standardized forms.
    In paragraph (b) of proposed new Sec.  19.24, we would outline 
procedures for when a claimant submits the correct form timely but 
incomplete. VA believes that the authority to require a claimant to use 
a particular form necessarily implies the authority to require that the 
form be completed, to include identifying each specific issue on which 
review of the AOJ decision is desired. VA strongly believes that, if 
veterans provide all information requested on the standardized VA form, 
this will lead to the fastest possible result for that individual 
veteran and the VA appellate system will work more efficiently for all 
veterans. Accordingly, if VA determines a form is incomplete, VA may 
require the claimant to timely file a completed version of the form.
    In Sec.  19.24(b)(1), we would describe the standard by which VA 
would determine whether or not a form to initiate an appeal is 
complete, both in general and for compensation claims in particular. In 
general, a claimant must provide all information the form requests in 
order for that form to be considered complete. In compensation claims, 
a form would be considered incomplete if it does not enumerate the 
issues or conditions for which appellate review is sought, and 
identify, in general terms, the nature of the disagreement. With 
respect to the nature of disagreement, the form used in the Houston RO 
pilot-directed claimants to indicate, for each appealed condition, 
whether they disagree with the AOJ's decision on the question of 
service connection, disability evaluation, effective date, and/or any 
other question. This information enables VA to more efficiently process 
appeals and avoid expending time and other resources on matters the 
claimant does not contest. We would also make clear that if a form 
enumerates some, but not all, of the issues or conditions which were 
the subject of the AOJ decision, the form would be considered complete 
with respect to the issues on appeal, and any issues or medical 
conditions not enumerated would not be considered appealed on the basis 
of the filing of that form. Of course, there is nothing to prevent a 
claimant from later filing a subsequent form initiating appeals of 
other issues within the AOJ decision, provided such an action is still 
timely.
    We wish to clarify that it is not VA's intention to be overly 
technical in determining whether claimants have completed a form. The 
purpose of this rule is the orderly and efficient processing of 
veterans' claims and appeals, not the exclusion of legitimate appeals, 
and VA's decision to deem a form incomplete and request completion will 
be guided by this principle. See Robinson v. Shinseki, 557 F.3d 1355, 
1361 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (``[i]n direct appeals, all filings must be read 
`in a liberal manner' whether or not the veteran is represented''). VA 
does intend to require use of the correct form, and does intend to 
require that information requested by that form be provided, because VA 
believes those requirements are crucial to the standardization of 
inputs this rule hopes

[[Page 65501]]

to achieve. VA does not intend to deem a form incomplete and request 
further completion unless that is a reasonable course to facilitate 
orderly processing and consideration of the appeal.
    In Sec.  19.24(b)(2), we would make clear that incomplete forms 
must be completed within 60 days from the date of VA's request for 
clarification, or the remainder of the period in which to initiate an 
appeal of the AOJ decision, whichever is later. VA proposes to provide 
this 60-day grace period in order to protect the claimant's rights in 
the event the statutory deadline has passed when VA determines the 
claimant has filed an incomplete form. Given that submission of the 
correct form would clearly identify to AOJ personnel that a claimant 
wishes to pursue an appeal, VA would accept the incomplete form for 
purposes of determining whether a claimant has met the statutory 
deadline. However, the claimant must complete the form within the 60-
day timeframe. This time requirement would correspond to the 60-day 
period provided in 38 CFR 19.26(c) for clarification of an ambiguous 
NOD filed under the traditional process.
    In Sec.  19.24(b)(3), we would state that if the completed form 
arrives within the timeframe established in paragraph (b)(2), VA would 
treat the completed form as the NOD. This proposed rule would make 
clear that no action would be taken on the basis of the incomplete 
form. In particular, if the incomplete form does not enumerate specific 
issues on which the claimant wishes to initiate an appeal, and the 
completed form does, only those issues that are enumerated on the 
completed form would be considered as having been appealed. Any 
conditions or issues not identified on the completed form would not be 
considered appealed on the basis of the filing of the incomplete form.
    In Sec.  19.24(b)(4), we would state that if no completed form is 
received within the timeframe established in paragraph (b)(2), the 
decision of the AOJ shall become final. VA believes the policy embodied 
in proposed paragraphs (b)(3) and (b)(4) is necessary to keep 
incomplete forms from becoming a significant exception to the 
standardization this rule is intended to achieve.
    In proposed Sec.  19.24(b)(5), we would make clear that if a form 
is so incomplete that the claimant to whom it pertains is 
unidentifiable, no action would be taken on the basis of the submission 
of that form and the form would be discarded. VA will always attempt to 
discern the claimant to whom the form pertains based on any statements 
or other information provided before discarding the form.
    To ensure other regulatory sections that discuss NODs are 
consistent with these proposed changes, VA also proposes to make minor 
revisions to a few other sections. Specifically, VA proposes to revise 
Sec.  3.2600, which discusses optional de novo review procedures at the 
AOJ after an NOD is filed, to cross reference the format and timeliness 
requirements of Sec.  20.201, and either Sec.  20.302(a) or Sec.  
20.501(a), as applicable, in the first sentence of paragraph (a). We 
also propose to revise Sec.  20.3(c), which currently defines an 
appellant as ``a claimant who has initiated an appeal to the Board of 
Veterans' Appeals by filing a Notice of Disagreement pursuant to the 
provisions of 38 U.S.C. 7105.'' Since 38 U.S.C. 7105 only requires that 
an NOD be submitted in writing, VA proposes to revise 38 CFR 20.3(c) to 
cross reference the proposed format requirements in Sec.  20.201, and 
the timeliness requirements of either Sec.  20.302(a) or Sec.  
20.501(a), as applicable. VA believes this revision would ensure that 
there is no confusion regarding what requirements a claimant must 
follow to submit a valid NOD. Similarly, Sec.  20.200 currently 
provides, in part, that an appeal includes ``a timely filed Notice of 
Disagreement in writing.'' VA proposes to revise Sec.  20.200 to 
replace ``in writing'' with cross references to Sec.  20.201, and 
either Sec.  20.302(a) or Sec.  20.501(a), as applicable.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3507(d)) requires 
that VA consider the impact of paperwork and other information 
collection burdens imposed on the public. According to the 1995 
amendments to the Paperwork Reduction Act (5 CFR 1320.8(b)(2)(vi)), an 
agency may not collect or sponsor the collection of information, nor 
may it impose an information collection requirement, unless it displays 
a currently valid Office of Management and Budget (OMB) control number. 
This proposed rule includes provisions constituting collections of 
information under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 
through 3521) that require approval 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 or 
emailed to OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov, with copies sent by mail or 
hand delivery to the Director, Regulations Management (02REG), 
Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue NW., Room 1068, 
Washington, DC 20420; fax to (202) 273-9026; or submitted through 
www.Regulations.gov. Comments should indicate that they are submitted 
in response to ``RIN 2900-AO81--Standard Claims and Appeals Forms.''
    The Department considers comments by the public on proposed 
collections of information in:
     Evaluation whether the proposed collections of information 
are necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the 
Department, including whether the information will have practical 
utility;
     Evaluating the accuracy of the Department'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 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 collections of information contained in 38 CFR 3.154, 3.155, 
3.812, and 20.201 are described immediately following this paragraph, 
under their respective titles.
    Title: Standard Claims and Appeals Forms.
    Summary of collection of information: The Department of Veterans 
Affairs (VA) through its Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) 
administers an integrated program of beneits and services, established 
by law, for veterans, service personnel, and their dependents and/or 
beneficiaries. Title 38 U.S.C. 5101(a) provides that a specific claim 
in the form provided by the Secretary must be filed in order for 
benefits to be paid to any individual under the laws administered by 
the Secretary. The amended collection of information in proposed 38 CFR 
3.154, 3.155, 3.812, and 20.201 would require claimants to submit VA 
prescribed applications in either paper or electronic submission of 
responses, where applicable, in order to initiate the claims or appeals 
process for all VA benefits, to include but not limited to: entitlement 
under 38 U.S.C. 1151, which governs disability compensation and death 
benefits for a qualifying disability or death of a veteran from VA 
treatment, examination or vocational

[[Page 65502]]

rehabilitation; disability compensation; non-service connected pension; 
and dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC), death pension, and 
accrued benefits. In addition, under this rulemaking, we propose to 
require claimants to submit a standard form to initiate an appeal. 
Information is requested by this form under the authority of 38 U.S.C. 
7105.
    Description of need for information and proposed use of 
information: There is no substantive change in the need for information 
and proposed use of information collected for the following affected 
OMB-approved Control Numbers:
     2900-0791 (VA Form 21-0958)--This form will be used by 
claimants to indicate a disagreement with a decision issued by a 
Regional Office to initiate an appeal.
     2900-0001 (VA Form 21-526 and 21-526b)--These forms are 
used to gather the necessary information to determine a veteran's 
eligibility, dependency, and income, as applicable, for the 
compensation and/or pension benefit sought without which information 
would prevent a determination of entitlement;
     2900-0743 (VA Form 21-526c)--This form is used to gather 
necessary information from service members filing claims under the 
Benefits Delivery at Discharge or Quick Start programs under Title 38 
U.S.C. 5101(a) used in a joint effort between VA and Department of 
Defense (DoD) for the expeditious process of determining entitlement to 
compensation disability benefits;
     2900-0002 (VA Form 21-527)--This form is used to gather 
the necessary information to determine a veteran's eligibility and 
dependency, as applicable, for disability pension sought without which 
information would prevent a determination of entitlement;
     2900-0004 (VA Form 21-534)--This form is used to gather 
necessary information to determine the eligibility of surviving spouses 
and children for dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC), death 
pension, accrued benefits and death compensation;
     2900-0004 (VA Form 21-534a)--This form is used to gather 
necessary information to determine the eligibility of surviving spouses 
and children of veterans who died while on active duty service for DIC, 
death pension, accrued benefits, and death compensation;
     2900-0005 (VA Form 21-535)--This form is used to gather 
necessary information to determine a parent's eligibility, dependency 
and income, as applicable, for the death benefit sought; and
     2900-0747 (VA Forms 21-526EZ, 21-527EZ, and 21-534EZ)--
These forms are used to gather the necessary information to determine a 
veteran's eligibility, dependency, and income, as applicable, for the 
compensation and/or pension and disability pension and to determine the 
eligibility of surviving spouses, children and parents for dependency 
and indemnity compensation (DIC), death pension, accrued benefits and 
death compensation as well as other benefits.
     2900-0572 (VA Form 21-0304--This form is used to gather 
the necessary information to determine eligibility for the monetary 
allowance and the appropriate level of payment for a child with spina 
bifida who is the natural child of a veteran who served in the Republic 
of Vietnam during the Vietnam era and for a chld with certain birth 
defects who is the natural child of a female veteran who served in the 
Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam era.
     2900-0721 (VA Form 21-2680)--This form is used to gather 
the necessary information to determine eligibility for the aid and 
attendance and/or household benefit.
     2900-0067 (VA Form 21-4502)--This form is used to gather 
the necessary information to determine if a veteran or serviceperson is 
entitled to an automobile allowance and adaptive equipment.
     2900-0390 (VA Form 21-8924)--This form is used to gather 
the necessary information to determine if the application meets the 
Restored Entitlement Program for Survivors (REPS) program which pays VA 
benefits to certain surviving spouses and children of veterans who died 
in service prior to August 13, 1981 or who died as a result of a 
service-connected disability incurred or aggravated prior to August 13, 
1981.
     2900-0404 (VA Form 21-8940)--This form is used to gather 
the necessary information to determine whether individual 
unemployability benefits may be paid to a veteran who has a service-
connected disability(ies) which result in an inability to secure or 
follow substantially gainful occupation.
     2900-0132 (VA Form 26-4555)--This form is used to gather 
the necessary information to determine the eligibility for the 
Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) or Special Housing Adaptations (SHA) 
benefits for disabled veterans or servicemembers.
    Description of likely respondents: There is no substantive change 
in the description of likely respondents for the following affected 
OMB-approved Control Numbers:
     2900-0791 (VA Form 21-0958)--Veterans or claimants who 
indicate disagreement with a decision issued by a Regional Office (RO) 
will use VA Form 21-0958 in order to initiate the appeals process. The 
veteran or claimant may or may not continue with an appeal to the Board 
of Veterans Appeals (BVA). If the veteran or claimant opts to continue 
to BVA for an appeal, this form will be included in the claim folder as 
evidence.
     2900-0001 (VA Form 21-526 and 21-526b)--Veterans or 
claimants who express an intent to file for disability compensation 
and/or pension benefit may continue to use VA Form 21-526. Veterans or 
claimants who express an intent to file for disability compensation for 
an increased evaluation, service connection for a new disability, 
reopening of a previously denied disability, or for a disability 
secondary to an existing service connected disability or for other 
ancillary benefits such as aid and attendance, automobile allowance, 
spousal aid and attendance, or other benefit may continue to use VA 
Form 21-526b.
     2900-0743 (VA Form 21-526c)--Service members filing claims 
under the Benefits Delivery at Discharge or Quick Start programs under 
Title 38 U.S.C. 5101(a) may continue to use VA Form 21-526c for 
disability compensation benefits.
     2900-0002 (VA Form 21-527)--Veterans who are reapplying 
for VA pension benefits or previously applied for VA compensation 
benefits and are now applying for VA pension benefits may continue to 
use VA Form 21-527.
     2900-0004 (VA Form 21-534 and 21-534a)--Claimants such as 
surviving spouses and children filing for dependency and indemnity 
compensation (DIC), death pension, accrued benefits, and death 
compensation claims may continue to use VA Form 21-534. Military 
Casualty Assistance Officers who are assisting suriving spouses and 
children in filing claims for death benefits may continue to use VA 
Form 21-534a.
     2900-0005 (VA Form 21-535)--Claimants who are filing for 
benefits subsequent to the death of the veteran may continue to use VA 
Form 21-535.
     2900-0747 (VA Forms 21-526EZ, 21-527EZ, and 21-534EZ)--
Veterans or claimants who are filing for disability compensation, 
pension, dependency and indemnity compensation, death pension, accured 
benefits and death compensation claims and other benefits such a 
ancillary benefit claims and entitlement to 38 U.S.C. 1151 benefits 
that filed for processing in both the traditional claims system or in 
the

[[Page 65503]]

expedited claims processing system known as the Fully Developed Claims 
program may continue to use VA Form 21-526EZ for disability 
compensation; VA Form 21-527EZ for non-service connected pension 
benefits; and VA Form 21-534EZ for dependency and indemnity 
compensation, death pension, and/or accrued benefits.
     2900-0572 (VA Form 21-0304)--Claimants who are filing for 
the monetary allowance and payment for a child with spina bifida who is 
the natural child of a veteran who served in the Republic of Vietnam 
during the Vietnam era and for a child with certain birth defects who 
is the natural child of a female veteran who served in the Republic of 
Vietnam during the Vietnam era may continue to use VA Form 21-0304.
     2900-0721 (VA Form 21-2680)--Claimants who are filing for 
eligibility for the aid and attendance and/or household benefit may 
continue to use VA Form 21-2680.
     2900-0067 (VA Form 21-4502)--Veterans or servicepersons 
who are filing for entitlement to an automobile allowance and adaptive 
equipment may continue to use VA Form 21-4502.
     2900-0390 (VA Form 21-8924)--Certain surviving spouses and 
children of veterans who died in service prior to August 13, 1981 or 
who died as a result of a service-connected disability incurred or 
aggravated prior to August 13, 1981 under the Restored Entitlement 
Program for Survivors (REPS) program may continue to use VA Form 21-
8924.
     2900-0404 (VA Form 21-8940)--Claimants who file for 
individual unemployability benefits for service-connected 
disability(ies) which result in an inability to secure or follow 
substantially gainful occupation may continue to use VA Form 21-8940.
     2900-0132 (VA Form 26-4555)--Disabled veterans or 
servicemembers who file for Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) or Special 
Housing Adaptations (SHA) benefits may continue to use VA Form 26-4555.
    Estimated frequency of responses:
     2900-0791 (VA Form 21-0958)--One time for most claimants; 
however, the frequency of responses is also dependent on the number of 
appeals submitted on this form by the claimant as VA does not limit the 
number of appeals that a claimant can submit.
     2900-0001 (VA Form 21-526 and 21-526b)--One time for most 
beneficiaries; however, the frequency of responses is also dependent on 
the number of claims submitted on this form by the claimant as VA does 
not limit the number of claims that a claimant can submit.
     2900-0743 (VA Form 21-526c)--One time for most 
beneficiaries; however, the frequency of responses is also dependent on 
the number of claims submitted on this form by the claimant as VA does 
not limit the number of claims that a claimant can submit.
     2900-0002 (VA Form 21-527)--One time for most 
beneficiaries; however, the frequency of responses is also dependent on 
the number of claims submitted on this form by the claimant as VA does 
not limit the number of claims that a claimant can submit.
     2900-0004 (VA Form 21-534 and 21-534a)--One time for most 
beneficiaries.
     2900-0005 (VA Form 21-535)--One time for most 
beneficiaries.
     2900-0747 (VA Forms 21-526EZ, 21-527EZ, and 21-534EZ)--One 
time for most beneficiaries; however, the frequency of responses is 
also dependent on the number of claims submitted on this form by the 
claimant as VA does not limit the number of claims that a claimant can 
submit.
     2900-0572 (VA Form 21-0304)--One time for most 
beneficiaries.
     2900-0721 (VA Form 21-2680)--One time for most 
beneficiaries.
     2900-0067 (VA Form 21-4502)--One time for most 
beneficiaries.
     2900-0390 (VA Form 21-8924)--One time for most 
beneficiaries.
     2900-0404 (VA Form 21-8940)--One time for most 
beneficiaries.
     2900-0132 (VA Form 26-4555)--One time for most 
beneficiaries.
    Estimated average burden per response: There is no substantive 
change in the estimated average burden per response for the following 
affected OMB-approved Control Numbers:
     2900-0791 (VA Form 21-0958)--30 minutes.
     2900-0001 (VA Form 21-526 and 21-526b)--VA Form 21-526--1 
hour; and VA Form 21-526b--15 minutes; and VA Form 21-4142--5 minutes.
     2900-0743 (VA Form 21-526c)--15 minutes.
     2900-0002 (VA Form 21-527)--1 hour.
     2900-0004 (VA Form 21-534 and 21-534a)--VA Form 21-534--1 
hour and 15 minutes and VA Form 534a--15 minutes.
     2900-0005 (VA Form 21-535)--1 hour and 12 minutes.
     2900-0747 (VA Forms 21-526EZ, 21-527EZ, and 21-534EZ)--VA 
Form 21-526EZ--25 minutes; VA Form 21-527EZ--25 minutes; and VA Form 
21-534EZ--25 minutes.
     2900-0572 (VA Form 21-0304)--10 minutes.
     2900-0721 (VA Form 21-2680)--30 minutes.
     2900-0067 (VA Form 21-4502)--15 minutes.
     2900-0390 (VA Form 21-8924)--20 minutes.
     2900-0404 (VA Form 21-8940)--45 minutes.
     2900-0132 (VA Form 26-4555)--10 minutes.
    Estimated number of respondents: VA anticipates the annual 
estimated numbers of respondents for each of the OMB-approved forms as 
follows:
     2900-0791 (VA Form 21-0958)--144,000 per year as 
previously estimated in ICR Reference No. 201206-2900-001 and as 
published in the Federal Register, 77 FR 42556 on July 19, 2012 and 77 
FR 60027 on October 1, 2012.
     2900-0001 (VA Form 21-526 and 21-526b)--304,325 per year, 
based on 5-year estimated average of formal and informal initial 
compensation and pension claims received annually at 83,855 and formal 
and informal new or reopened compensation claims received annually at 
217,178, in addition to the historically reported annual estimated 
number of responses for VA Form 21-4142 at 3,292.
     2900-0743 (VA Form 21-526c)--161,000 per year as 
previously estimated in ICR Reference No. 201209-2900-010 and as 
published in the Federal Register, 77 FR 190, on October 1, 2012 and 77 
FR 240 on December 13, 2012.
     2900-0002 (VA Form 21-527)--17,111 per year, based on a 5-
year estimated average of 12,253 reopened pension claims received on VA 
Form 21-527 in addition to an estimated number of 4,858 expected to be 
received for informal reopened pension claims.
     2900-0004 (VA Form 21-534 and 21-534a)--33,864 per year, 
based on a 5-year estimated average of 32,438 formal and informal death 
benefits claims filed by surviving spouses/child in addition to a 5-
year estimated number of 1,426 formal and informal death benefits 
claims filed by surviving spouses/child for in-service death.
     2900-0005 (VA Form 21-535)--1,783 per year, based on a 5-
year estimated average of 1,046 formal death benefits filed by parents 
in addition to an expected estimated number of informal death benefit 
claims at 737.
     2900-0747 (VA Forms 21-526EZ, 21-527EZ, and 21-534EZ)--
1,048,652 per year, based on: (a) An estimated number of both formal 
and informal--initial, new, reopened compensation claims at 835,910; 
plus (b) an estimated number of both formal and informal pension claims 
at 101,086; (c) an estimated number of both formal and

[[Page 65504]]

informal death benefit claims at 111,656, all of which total 1,048,652.
    VA expanded a modified version of a pilot study, known as the 
Express Claim Program, for which VA Forms 21-526EZ and 21-527EZ were 
used. Therefore, the number of claimants expected to respond was 
estimated at 104,440. These EZ forms contain the section 5103 
notification for disability, pension, and now death benefits in paper 
and electronic format. The electronic application uses the EZ form in 
its question prompts and generates this form upon completion of the 
interview process. Because this rule is structured to incentivize the 
electronic claims process, VA expects a substantial increase in the 
number of respondents for this particular Control Number.
     2900-0572 (VA Form 21-0304)--430 per year.
     2900-0721 (VA Form 21-2680)--14,000 per year.
     2900-0067 (VA Form 21-4502)--1,552 per year.
     2900-0390 (VA Form 21-8924)--1,800 per year.
     2900-0404 (VA Form 21-8940)--24,000 per year.
     2900-0132 (VA Form 26-4555)--4,158 per year.
    OMB Control Numbers 2900-0572, 2900-0721, 2900-0067, 2900-0390, 
2900-0404, and 2900-0132 are collections of information for particular 
benefits such as automobile allowance, housing adaptation, individual 
unemployability, etc., which are currently required by the VA in order 
for these claims to be processed and adjudicated. Since VA requires 
these forms to be submitted for filing of a particular benefit, VA does 
not expect an increase in the annual likely number of respondents. In 
addition, VA is not changing the substance of the collection of 
information on these OMB-approved collections of information nor is it 
increasing the respondent burden. We are including these collections of 
information in this rulemaking because it is relevant to the rulemaking 
but is not directly altered by it.
    Estimated total annual reporting and recordkeeping burden:
     2900-0791 (VA Form 21-0958)--Annual burden continues to be 
72,000 hours. The total estimated cost to respondents continues to be 
$1,080,000 (72,000 hours x $15/hour). This submission does not involve 
any recordkeeping costs.
     2900-0001 (VA Form 21-526 and 21-526b)--For VA Form 21-
526, the annual burden is 83,855 hours. The total estimated cost to 
respondents is $1,257,825 (83,855 hours x $15/hour). This submission 
does not involve any recordkeeping costs. For VA Form 21-526b, the 
annual burden is 54,295 hours. The total estimated cost to respondents 
is $81,443 (54,295 hours x $15/hour). This submission does not involve 
any recordkeeping costs. For VA Form 21-4142, the annual burden is 263 
hours. The total estimated cost to respondents is $330 (263 hours x 
$15/hour). This submission does not involve any recordkeeping costs.
     2900-0743 (VA Form 21-526c)--Annual burden continues to be 
40,250 hours. The total estimated cost to respondents continues to be 
$603,750 (40,250 hours x $15/hour). This submission does not involve 
any recordkeeping costs.
     2900-0002 (VA Form 21-527)--Annual burden is 17,111 hours. 
The total estimated cost to respondents is $256,665 (17,111 hours x 
$15/hour). This submission does not involve any recordkeeping costs.
     2900-0004 (VA Form 21-534 and 21-534a)--For VA Form 21-
534, the annual burden is 40,548 hours. The total estimated cost to 
respondents is $608,220 (40,548 hours x $15/hour). This submission does 
not involve any recordkeeping costs. For VA Form 21-534a, the annual 
burden is 357 hours. The total estimated cost to respondents is $5,355 
(3,57 hours x $15/hour). This submission does not involve any 
recordkeeping costs.
     2900-0005 (VA Form 21-535)--Annual burden is 2,140 hours. 
The total estimated cost to respondents is $32,100 (2,140 hours x $15/
hour). This submission does not involve any recordkeeping costs.
     2900-0747 (VA Forms 21-526EZ, 21-527EZ, and 21-534EZ)--For 
VA Form 21-526EZ, the annual burden is 348,296 hours. The total 
estimated cost to respondents is $55,224,440 (348,296 hours x $15/
hour). This submission does not involve any recordkeeping costs. For VA 
Form 21-527EZ, the annual burden is 42,119 hours. The total estimated 
cost to respondents is $631,785 (42,119 hours x $15/hour). This 
submission does not involve any recordkeeping costs. For VA Form 21-
534EZ, the annual burden is 46,523 hours. The total estimated cost to 
respondents is $697,845 (46,523 hours x $15/hour). This submission does 
not involve any recordkeeping costs.
     2900-0572 (VA Form 21-0304)--Annual burden continues to be 
72 hours. The total estimated cost to respondents continues to be 
$1,080 (72 hours x $15/hour). This submission does not involve any 
recordkeeping costs.
     2900-0721 (VA Form 21-2680)--Annual burden continues to be 
7,000 hours. The total estimated cost to respondents continues to be 
$105,000 (7,000 hours x $15/hour). This submission does not involve any 
recordkeeping costs.
     2900-0067 (VA Form 21-4502)--Annual burden continues to be 
388 hours. The total estimated cost to respondents continues to be 
$5,820 (388 hours x $15/hour). This submission does not involve any 
recordkeeping costs.
     2900-0390 (VA Form 21-8924)--Annual burden continues to be 
600 hours. The total estimated cost to respondents to be $9,000 (600 
hours x $15/hour). This submission does not involve any recordkeeping 
costs.
     2900-0404 (VA Form 21-8940)--Annual burden continues to be 
18,000 hours. The total estimated cost to respondents continues to be 
$270,000 (18,000 hours x $15/hour). This submission does not involve 
any recordkeeping costs.
     2900-0132 (VA Form 26-4555)--Annual burden continues to be 
693 hours. The total estimated cost to respondents continues to be 
$10,395 (693 hours x $15/hour). This submission does not involve any 
recordkeeping costs.
    This rulemaking is proposing to mandate the use of existing VA 
forms in the processing and adjudication of claims and appeals. The 
proposed amendments to Sec. Sec.  3.154, 3.155, 3.812, and 20.201 
affect the estimated annual number of respondents and consequently, the 
estimated total annual reporting and recordkeeping burden but do not 
otherwise affect the existing collections of information that have 
already been approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The 
proposed use of information, description of likely respondents, 
estimated frequency of responses, estimated average burden per response 
will remain unchanged for these forms. While there is no substantive 
change in the aforementioned collection of information for these 
proposed amendments, VA foresees a change in the quantity of 
information collected and the total annual reporting for certain 
currently approved OMB control numbers on account of this rulemaking.
VA's Collection of Data
    Other than for original claims and certain ancillary benefits, VA 
historically and currently accepts claims for benefits in any format 
submitted, whether on a prescribed form or not. VA has never 
standardized the use of forms

[[Page 65505]]

for claims or appeals processing.\2\ VA maintains a record of the 
number of types of benefit claims received annually based on claim 
types such as original claims, claims for increase or to reopen a 
previously denied claim, claims for ancillary benefits, pension, and 
death benefits which have been submitted on the appropriate prescribed 
form. However, reliance on claim types based on the form submitted may 
not accurately capture the number of claims received. For instance, one 
claim type can be filed using more than one prescribed form and a 
claimant can file two types of claim such as a claim for increase and a 
claim to reopen on one prescribed VA form which will be categorized as 
one claim type received, i.e., recorded as either a claim for increase 
or a claim to reopen. For informal claims, VA has not quantified the 
number of informal claims received, but it quantifies the particular 
claim type filed in the informal claim such as original, increase, new, 
reopen, etc. As a result of this proposed rulemaking requiring the use 
of prescribed forms for all claims for benefits, VA will be able to 
gather and collect the data quantifying the number of prescribed forms 
in the future which will provide VA with a more accurate account of how 
many respondents will respond on various VA prescribed forms.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \2\ Currently, VA accepts any claim filed subsequent to the 
original, initial compensation/pension claim that is submitted in 
any form, i.e., informal claim to initiate the claims process. For 
example, a claim for increase or reopen, which currently is not 
required to be submitted on a prescribed form, can be established 
using different VA forms such as VA Form 21-526 Veteran's 
Application for Compensation and/or Pension; VA Form 21-526EZ, 
Application for Disability Compensation or Related Compensation; VA 
Form 21-526b, Veteran's Supplemental Claim for Compensation; or VA 
Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of Claim.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Electronic Claims
    Due to the fact that there is no current data enumerating the total 
number of different types of VA forms received annually, we have 
projected the annual number of respondents for the forms based on the 
estimated number of types of claims received annually over a 5-year 
period. We have also approximated the number of electronic claims 
received for compensation, pension, and death claims. Currently, VA's 
electronic claims processing system, i.e., eBenefits and Veterans 
Online Applications (VONAPP), uses VA Form 21-526EZ for disability 
compensation claims submitted electronically. VA is also in the process 
of adding other VA forms to VONAPP such as VA Form 21-527EZ and 21-
534EZ (hereinafter ``EZ forms'' will be used to refer to VA Forms 21-
526EZ, 21-527EZ, and 21-534EZ, collectively). VA also provides these EZ 
forms to claimants who wish to submit their claims on paper because 
these forms expedite the claims process by: (a) offering the claimant a 
choice for either the expedited process of ``Fully Developed Claims'' 
or the traditional claims process; (b) listing more detailed questions 
for a variety of benefits sought in order to capture thoroughly the 
specifics of a claim; and (c) providing claimants with the required 
notice of VA's duty to assist the claimant pursuant to 38 U.S.C. 5103, 
which is issued at the time the claimant files a claim instead of when 
the VA receives the claim. The use of these EZ forms ultimately speeds 
up the claims process and ensures faster delivery of benefits to 
claimants; therefore, VA has encouraged, directed, and provided these 
EZ forms to claimants who wish to file benefit claims.
    VA proposes to eliminate ``informal claims'' and require the 
submission of either a complete or incomplete electronic claim in 
proposed, revised Sec.  3.155(b) as a placeholder for a potential 
earlier effective date. Only electronic claims will receive the 
possible earlier effective date for any awards granted; complete paper 
claims will receive the effective date based on the date of receipt by 
the VA. By incentivizing electronic claims processing through the 
authorization of a potential earlier effective date by this proposed 
rulemaking, VA expects the number of electronic claims to increase. 
Because eBenefits and VONAPP uses (and will continue to use) the EZ 
forms, we anticipate that the total number of annual responses received 
on the EZ forms electronically for all benefits will increase by at 
least 29 percent while the total number of annual response received on 
VA Forms 21-526, 21-526b, 21-527, 21-534, 21-534a, and 21-535 
(``traditional forms'') will decrease. Based on data from Fiscal Year 
(FY) October 2010 through September 2011, the number of compensation 
disability claims received electronically was 142,899 and the number of 
total compensation disability and dependency claims received 
electronically was 496,851. Thus, the percentage of compensation 
disability electronic claims received was 29 percent. With VA's 
outreach and efforts to promote the electronic claims processing system 
and with future implementation of pension, death, and appeals 
electronic claims processing, VA estimates an increase of the 
submission of electronic claims by at least 29 percent based upon the 
FY 2010 through 2011 data. Since the trend is to direct claimants to 
submit claims on EZ forms both electronically and on paper, we 
approximate that 70 percent of claims will be submitted on the EZ form 
while 30 percent will be submitted on the traditional forms.
Informal Claims
    The data used in formulating the estimated number of annual 
responses to the various affected prescribed forms was extrapolated 
from data recorded for the number of types of claims received annually 
for FY April 2009 through April 2013. This data is not sufficiently 
granular to provide the number of informal claims received given that 
the data only depicts the number of initial, new or reopened 
compensation and pension claims received and the number of initial 
death benefit claims received. Since informal claims may or may not be 
submitted on a prescribed form, there is no method for accurately 
recording or quantifying the total number of informal claims received 
or inferred annually. Therefore, we approximate that for compensation, 
pension, and death benefits,, 50 percent of each of these benefits are 
informal claims. Thus, based on the data of an average of claims 
received over a 5-year period, we expect that the total number of 
informal claims for compensation, pension, and death benefits that will 
be submitted on a prescribed form will increase by at least 50 percent.

Notices of Disagreement

    Previously, VA estimated that the annual number of respondents 
submitting the currently approved collection instrument, VA Form 21-
0958, Notice of Disagreement, (OMB Control Number 2900-0791) would be 
144,000, based on VA historically receiving 12 Notices of Disagreement 
per 100 completed VBA decisions, with more than 1.2 million VBA 
decisions in FY 2012. According to data for FY 2009 to FY 2012, the 
average number of Notices of Disagreement received annually was 
129,539. For FY 2013, it is projected that VA will receive 126,735 
Notices of Disagreement. The estimate associated with the currently 
approved collection was based upon the assumption that all notices of 
disagreement would be submitted on this collection instrument, though 
that is not necessarily the case under current rules. As a result of 
this rulemaking, however, the overwhelming majority of notices of 
disagreement would in fact be submitted on this collection instrument, 
since this rulemaking proposes to require that all notices of 
disagreement

[[Page 65506]]

be submitted on VA Form 21-0958 in cases where that form is provided. 
Accordingly, while VA does expect to receive many more completed Forms 
21-0958, there is no expected increase in the annual number of 
respondents nor an increased burden on respondents from that reflected 
in currently approved collections.
Methodology for Estimated Annual Number of Respondents for Affected 
Forms
    We have formulated the estimated total of annual responses for 
compensation, pension, and death benefit claims by increasing the 
expected number of total claims submitted on paper by 50 percent from 
data extrapolated for claims received annually over a 5-year period. We 
project that 30 percent of compensation, pension, and death benefit 
claims will be submitted on traditional forms whereas 70 percent will 
be submitted on EZ forms. Accordingly, VA expects a decrease in the 
total estimated number of annual responses for VA Forms 21-526, 21-527, 
21-534, 21-534a, and 21-535 whereas the total estimated number of 
annual responses for VA Forms 21-526EZ, 21-527EZ, and 21-534EZ have 
increased substantially. The projected numbers for each affected form 
are provided in further detail in the above section, ``Estimated number 
of respondents,'' according to each OMB Control Number.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    The Secretary hereby certifies that these proposed regulatory 
amendments 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. These proposed amendments 
would not directly affect any small entities. Only VA beneficiaries and 
their survivors could be directly affected. Therefore, pursuant to 5 
U.S.C. 605(b), these proposed amendments are exempt from the initial 
and final regulatory flexibility analysis requirements of sections 603 
and 604.

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 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 to be a significant regulatory action under Executive 
Order 12866, as it raises novel legal or policy issues arising out of 
legal mandates.
    VA's impact analysis can be found as a supporting document at 
http://www.regulations.gov, usually within 48 hours after the 
rulemaking document is published. Additionally, a copy of the 
rulemaking and its impact analysis are available on VA's Web site at 
http://www1.va.gov/orpm/, by following the link for ``VA Regulations 
Published.''

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 an 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 given year. This proposed rule would have no such 
effect on State, local, and tribal governments, or on the private 
sector.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Numbers and Titles

    The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance program numbers and 
titles for this rule are 64.100, Automobiles and Adaptive Equipment for 
Certain Disabled Veterans and Members of the Armed Forces; 64.101, 
Burial Expenses Allowance for Veterans; 64.102, Compensation for 
Service-Connected Deaths for Veterans' Dependents; 64.103, Life 
Insurance for Veterans; 64.104, Pension for Non-Service-Connected 
Disability for Veterans; 64.105, Pension to Veterans Surviving Spouses, 
and Children; 64.106, Specially Adapted Housing for Disabled Veterans; 
64.109, Veterans Compensation for Service-Connected Disability; 64.110, 
Veterans Dependency and Indemnity Compensation for Service-Connected 
Death; 64.114, Veterans Housing-Guaranteed and Insured Loans; 64.115, 
Veterans Information and Assistance; 64.116,Vocational Rehabilitation 
for Disabled Veterans; 64.117, Survivors and Dependents Educational 
Assistance; 64.118, Veterans Housing-Direct Loans for Certain Disabled 
Veterans; 64.119, Veterans Housing-Manufactured Home Loans; 64.120, 
Post-Vietnam Era Veterans' Educational Assistance; 64.124, All-
Volunteer Force Educational Assistance; 64.125, Vocational and 
Educational Counseling for Servicemembers and Veterans; 64.126, Native 
American Veteran Direct Loan Program; 64.127, Monthly Allowance for 
Children of Vietnam Veterans Born with Spina Bifida; and 64.128, 
Vocational Training and Rehabilitation for Vietnam Veterans' Children 
with Spina Bifida or Other Covered Birth Defects.

Signing Authority

    The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, or designee, approved this 
document and authorized the undersigned to sign and submit the document 
to the Office of the Federal Register for publication electronically as 
an official document of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Jose D. 
Riojas, Interim Chief of Staff, Department of Veterans Affairs, 
approved this document on July 8, 2013, for publication.

List of Subjects

38 CFR Part 3

    Administrative practice and procedure, Claims, Disability benefits, 
Health care, Pensions, Radioactive materials, Veterans, Vietnam.

38 CFR Parts 19 and 20

    Administrative practice and procedure, Claims, Veterans.

    Approved: July 8, 2013.
Robert C. McFetridge,
Director, Office of Regulation Policy & Management, Department of 
Veterans Affairs.

    For the reasons set forth in the preamble, VA proposes to amend 38 
CFR parts 3, 19, and 20 as follows:

[[Page 65507]]

PART 3--ADJUDICATION

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

0
1. The authority citation for part 3, subpart A continues to read as 
follows:

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

0
2. In Sec.  3.1, revise paragraph (p) to read as follows:


Sec.  3.1  Definitions.

* * * * *
    (p) Claim means a written communication requesting a determination 
of entitlement or evidencing a belief in entitlement, to a specific 
benefit under the laws administered by the Department of Veterans 
Affairs.
* * * * *


Sec.  3.150  [Amended]

0
3. Amend Sec.  3.150 by removing paragraph (c).
0
4. Revise Sec.  3.154 to read as follows:


Sec.  3.154  Injury due to hospital treatment, etc.

    Claimants must file a complete claim on the appropriate paper or 
electronic form prescribed by the Secretary when applying for benefits 
under 38 U.S.C. 1151 and 38 CFR 3.361. See Sec. Sec.  3.151 and 
3.400(i) concerning effective dates of awards.

    Authority:  38 U.S.C. 501 and 1151.

0
5. Revise Sec.  3.155 to read as follows:


Sec.  3.155  Claims.

    The provisions of this section are applicable to all claims 
governed by part 3 of this chapter.
    (a) Non-electronic claims. This paragraph applies to all claims 
which do not qualify for processing under paragraph (b) of this 
section. A complete non-electronic claim will be considered filed as of 
the date it was received by VA for an evaluation or award of benefits 
under the laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
    (b) Electronic claims. This paragraph applies to requests for 
benefits under the laws administered by the Department of Veterans 
Affairs submitted through a claims submission tool within a VA web-
based electronic claims application system. A claim submitted by a 
claimant, his or her duly authorized representative, a Member of 
Congress, or some person acting as next friend of a claimant who is not 
of full age or capacity that does not meet the standards of a complete 
claim may be considered an incomplete claim. If a complete electronic 
claim is filed within 1 year of the incomplete electronic claim, the 
electronic claim will be considered filed as of the date of the 
incomplete electronic claim for an evaluation or award of benefits 
under the laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Only 
one complete claim may be associated with each incomplete claim, though 
multiple issues may be contained within a complete claim. In the event 
multiple complete claims are filed within 1 year of an incomplete 
claim, only the first may be associated with the incomplete claim.
    (c) Request for an application for benefits. Without limitation, 
the following types of communications or actions do not constitute a 
claim of any kind and are considered a request for an application for 
benefits under Sec.  3.150(a) of this part. Upon receipt of such a 
communication or action, the Secretary shall notify the claimant and 
the claimant's representative, if any, of the information necessary to 
complete the application.
    (1) Any communication or action indicating an intent to apply for 
one or more benefits under the laws administered by the Department of 
Veterans Affairs, from a claimant, his or her duly authorized 
representative, a Member of Congress, or some person acting as next 
friend of a claimant who is not of full age or capacity that does not 
meet the standards of a complete claim;
    (2) A communication indicating a belief in entitlement to benefits 
submitted on a paper form prescribed by the Secretary that is not 
complete; or
    (3) An electronic mail, transmitted through VA's electronic portal 
or otherwise, that indicates an intent to apply for one or more 
benefits or a belief in entitlement to benefits under the laws 
administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs from a claimant, his 
or her duly authorized representative, a Member of Congress, or some 
person acting as next friend of a claimant who is not of full age or 
capacity, that does not meet the standards of a complete claim. Cross 
Reference: Effective dates. See Sec.  3.400.


Sec.  3.157  [Removed]

0
6. Remove Sec.  3.157.
0
7. Revise Sec.  3.160 to read as follows:


Sec.  3.160  Types of claims.

    (a) Complete claim. A submission on a paper or electronic form 
prescribed by the Secretary that is fully filled out and provides all 
requested information. This includes, but is not limited to, meeting 
the following requirements:
    (1) A complete claim must be signed by the claimant or a person 
legally authorized to sign for the claimant.
    (2) A complete claim must identify the benefit sought.
    (3) For compensation claims, a description of any symptom(s) or 
medical condition(s) on which the benefit is based must be provided to 
the extent the form prescribed by the Secretary so requires.
    (4) For a nonservice-connected disability or death pension and 
parents' dependency and indemnity compensation claims, a statement of 
income must be provided to the extent the form prescribed by the 
Secretary so requires.
    (b) Incomplete claim. See Sec.  3.155(b) of this part.
    (c) Original claim. The initial complete claim for one or more 
benefits on an application or form prescribed by the Secretary.
    (d) New or supplemental claim. An application filed subsequent to 
the original claim which may consist of the following:
    (1) A claim for a new benefit unrelated to a currently awarded 
benefit such as service connection for a new or different disability 
from one for which service connection has already been awarded;
    (2) A claim for a new or additional benefit directly related to a 
currently awarded benefit including, but not limited to, a request for 
entitlement of benefits based upon secondary service connection; or 
claims for aid and attendance, housebound, special monthly compensation 
or pension, special monthly dependency and indemnity compensation, 
death compensation, pension, spousal aid and attendance or housebound 
benefits, dependents benefits such as helpless child, specially adapted 
housing, special home adaptation, clothing allowance, or automobile 
allowance;
    (3) Claims of clear and unmistakable error.
    (e) Pending claim. A claim which has not been finally adjudicated.
    (f) Finally adjudicated claim. A claim that is adjudicated by the 
Department of Veterans Affairs as either allowed or disallowed is 
considered finally adjudicated by whichever of the following occurs 
first:
    (1) The expiration of the period in which to file a notice of 
disagreement, pursuant to the provisions of Sec.  20.302(a) or Sec.  
20.501(a) of this chapter, as applicable; or,
    (2) Disposition on appellate review.
    (g) Reopened claim. An application for a benefit received after 
final disallowance of an earlier claim that is

[[Page 65508]]

subject to readjudication on the merits based on receipt of new and 
material evidence related to the finally adjudicated claim, or any 
claim based on additional evidence or a request for a personal hearing 
submitted more than 90 days following notification to the appellant of 
the certification of an appeal and transfer of applicable records to 
the Board of Veterans' Appeals which was not considered by the Board in 
its decision and was referred to the agency of original jurisdiction 
for consideration as provided in Sec.  20.1304(b)(1) of this chapter.
    (h) Claim for increase. An application for an increase in a 
currently awarded benefit(s) which may consist of any of the following:
    (1) An increased evaluation for a specific disability(ies);
    (2) A claim for supplemental benefits such as aid and attendance, 
housebound, or special monthly compensation;
    (3) A claim for an increased rating based on total disability based 
on individual unemployability, when not contained in the original 
claim.
    (4) An increased evaluation for a specific service-connected 
disability(ies)
    which is/are based on a claim for temporary total disability due to 
hospitalization of more than 21 days or due to surgical or other 
treatment requiring convalescence of at least one month;
    (5) Request for resumption of payments previously discontinued.
0
8. Amend Sec.  3.400 by revising paragraph (o)(2) and adding an 
authority citation to read as follows:


Sec.  3.400  General.

* * * * *
    (o) * * *
    (2) Disability compensation. Earliest date as of which it is 
factually ascertainable that an increase in disability had occurred if 
a complete claim is received within 1 year from such date, otherwise, 
date of receipt of claim. When medical records indicate an increase in 
a disability, receipt of such medical records may be used to establish 
effective date(s) for retroactive benefits based on facts found of an 
increase in a disability only if a complete claim for an increase is 
received within 1 year of the date of the report of examination, 
hospitalization, or medical treatment. The provisions of this paragraph 
apply only when such reports relate to examination or treatment of a 
disability for which service-connection has previously been 
established.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 510, 5101)
* * * * *
0
9. Amend Sec.  3.812 by revising paragraphs (e) and (f) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  3.812  Special allowance payable under section 156 of Pub. L. 97-
377.

* * * * *
    (e) Claims--complete and incomplete. Claimants must file or submit 
a complete claim on a paper or electronic form prescribed by the 
Secretary in order for VA to pay this special allowance. When 
incomplete claims or inquiries as to eligibility are received, the 
procedures outlined in Sec.  3.155 of this part will be followed. The 
date of receipt of the complete claim will be accepted as the date of 
claim for this special allowance. See Sec. Sec.  3.150, 3.151, 3.155, 
3.400 of this part.
    (f) Retroactivity and effective dates. There is no time limit for 
filing a claim for this special allowance. Upon the filing of a 
complete claim, benefits shall be payable for all periods of 
eligibility beginning on or after the first day of the month in which 
the claimant first became eligible for this special allowance, except 
that no payment may be made for any period prior to January 1, 1983.
* * * * *

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

0
10. The authority citation for part 3, subpart D, continues to read as 
follows:

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

0
11. In Sec.  3.2600, amend paragraph (a) by revising the first sentence 
to read as follows:


Sec.  3.2600  Review of benefit claims decisions.

    (a) A claimant who has filed a Notice of Disagreement submitted in 
accordance with the provisions of Sec.  20.201 of this chapter, and 
either Sec.  20.302(a) or Sec.  20.501(a) of this chapter, as 
applicable, with a decision of an agency of original jurisdiction on a 
benefit claim has a right to a review of that decision under this 
section. * * *
* * * * *

PART 19--BOARD OF VETERANS' APPEALS: APPEALS REGULATIONS

0
12. The authority citation for part 19 continues to read as follows:

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

Subpart B--Appeals Processing by Agency of Original Jurisdiction

0
13. Add Sec. Sec.  19.23 and 19.24 to read as follows:


Sec.  19.23  Applicability of provisions concerning Notice of 
Disagreement

    (a) Appeals governed by Sec.  20.201(a) of this chapter shall be 
processed in accordance with Sec.  19.24 of this part. Sections 19.26, 
19.27 and 19.28 of this part shall not apply to appeals governed by 
Sec.  20.201(a) of this chapter.
    (b) Appeals governed by Sec.  20.201(b) of this chapter shall be 
processed in accordance with Sec. Sec.  19.26, 19.27, and 19.28 of this 
part.


Sec.  19.24  Action by agency of original jurisdiction on Notice of 
Disagreement required to be filed on a standardized form.

    (a) Initial action. When a timely Notice of Disagreement in 
accordance with the requirements of Sec.  20.201(a) of this chapter is 
filed, the agency of original jurisdiction may reexamine the claim and 
determine whether additional review or development is warranted.
    (b) Incomplete appeal forms. In cases governed by paragraph (a) of 
Sec.  20.201 of this chapter, if VA determines a form filed by the 
claimant is incomplete and requests verification, the claimant must 
timely file a completed version of the correct form in order to 
initiate an appeal.
    (1) Completeness. In general, a form may be considered incomplete 
if any of the information requested is not provided, including without 
limitation the claimant's signature, information to identify the 
claimant and the claim to which the form pertains, and any information 
necessary to identify the specific nature of the disagreement if the 
form so requires. For compensation claims, a form will be considered 
incomplete if it does not enumerate the issues or conditions for which 
appellate review is sought, or does not provide other information 
required on the form to identify the claimant, the date of the VA 
action the claimant seeks to appeal, and the nature of the disagreement 
(such as disagreement with disability rating, effective date, or denial 
of service connection). If a form enumerates some but not all of the 
issues or conditions which were the subject of the decision of the 
agency of original jurisdiction, the form will be considered complete 
with respect to the issues on appeal, and any issues or conditions not 
enumerated will not be considered appealed on the basis of the filing 
of that form.
    (2) Timeframe to complete correct form. If VA requests 
clarification of an incomplete form, a complete form must be received 
within 60 days from the

[[Page 65509]]

date of the request, or the remainder of the period in which to 
initiate an appeal of the decision of the agency of original 
jurisdiction, whichever is later.
    (3) Form timely completed. If a completed form is received within 
the timeframe set forth in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, VA will 
treat the completed form as the Notice of Disagreement, and no action 
will be taken on the basis of the incomplete form. Any decisions on 
conditions or issues not identified on the completed form will not be 
treated as appealed and will accordingly become final.
    (4) Form not timely completed. If no completed form is received 
within this timeframe set forth in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, 
the decision of the agency of original jurisdiction will become final.
    (5) Claimant unidentifiable. If VA cannot identify the claimant to 
whom a particular form pertains, the form will be discarded and no 
action will be taken on the basis of the submission of that form.

PART 20--BOARD OF VETERANS' APPEALS: RULES OF PRACTICE

0
14. The authority citation for part 20 continues to read as follows:

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

Subpart A--General

0
15. In Sec.  20.3, revise paragraph (c) to read as follows:


Sec.  20.3  Rule 3. Definitions.

* * * * *
    (c) Appellant means a claimant who has initiated an appeal to the 
Board of Veterans' Appeals by filing a timely Notice of Disagreement 
pursuant to the provisions of Sec.  20.201, and either Sec.  20.302(a) 
or Sec.  20.501(a) of this part, as applicable.
* * * * *

Subpart C--Commencement and Perfection of Appeal

0
16. Revise Sec.  20.200 to read as follows:


Sec.  20.200  Rule 200. What constitutes an appeal.

    An appeal consists of a timely filed Notice of Disagreement 
submitted in accordance with the provisions of Sec.  20.201, and either 
Sec.  20.302(a) or Sec.  20.501(a) of this part, as applicable and, 
after a Statement of the Case has been furnished, a timely filed 
Substantive Appeal.
0
17. Revise Sec.  20.201 to read as follows:


Sec.  20.201  Rule 201. Notice of Disagreement.

    (a) Cases in which a form is provided by the agency of original 
jurisdiction for purpose of initiating an appeal.
    (1) Format. For every case in which the agency of original 
jurisdiction (AOJ) provides, in connection with its decision, a form 
for the purpose of initiating an appeal, a Notice of Disagreement 
consists of a completed and timely submitted copy of that form. VA will 
not accept as a notice of disagreement an expression of dissatisfaction 
or disagreement with an adjudicative determination by the agency of 
original jurisdiction and a desire to contest the result that is 
submitted in any other format, including on a different VA form.
    (2) Provision of form to the claimant. If a claimant has 
established an online benefits account with VA, or has designated an 
email address for the purpose of receiving communications from VA, VA 
may provide an appeal form pursuant to paragraph (a)(1) of this section 
electronically, whether by email, hyperlink, or other direction to the 
appropriate form within the claimant's online benefits account. VA may 
also provide a form pursuant to paragraph (a)(1) of this section in 
paper format.
    (3) Presumption form was provided. This paragraph (a) applies if 
there is any indication whatsoever in the claimant's file or electronic 
account that a form was sent pursuant to paragraph (a)(1) of this 
section.
    (4) Specificity required by form. If the agency of original 
jurisdiction gave notice that adjudicative determinations were made on 
several issues at the same time, the specific determinations with which 
the claimant disagrees must be identified to the extent a form provided 
pursuant to paragraph (a)(1) of this section so requires. If the 
claimant wishes to appeal all of the issues decided by the agency of 
original jurisdiction, the form must clearly indicate that intent. 
Issues not identified on the form will not be considered appealed.
    (5) Alternate form or other communication. The filing of an 
alternate form or other communication will not extend, toll, or 
otherwise delay the time limit for filing a Notice of Disagreement, as 
provided in Sec.  20.302(a) of this part. In particular, returning the 
incorrect VA form, including a form designed to appeal a different 
benefit does not extend, toll, or otherwise delay the time limit for 
filing the correct form.
    (b) Cases in which no form is provided by the agency of original 
jurisdiction for purpose of initiating an appeal. A written 
communication from a claimant or his or her representative expressing 
dissatisfaction or disagreement with an adjudicative determination by 
the agency of original jurisdiction and a desire to contest the result 
will constitute a Notice of Disagreement relating to a claim for 
benefits in any case in which the agency of original jurisdiction does 
not provide a form identified as being for the purpose of initiating an 
appeal. The Notice of Disagreement must be in terms which can be 
reasonably construed as disagreement with that determination and a 
desire for appellate review. If the agency of original jurisdiction 
gave notice that adjudicative determinations were made on several 
issues at the same time, the specific determinations with which the 
claimant disagrees must be identified.
    (c) Simultaneously contested claims. The provisions of paragraph 
(b) of this section shall apply to appeals in simultaneously contested 
claims under Sec. Sec.  20.500 and 20.501 of this part, regardless of 
whether a standardized form was provided with the decision of the 
agency of original jurisdiction.

[FR Doc. 2013-25968 Filed 10-30-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 8320-01-P