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Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2008

SUMMARY AS OF:
9/16/2008--Passed Senate amended. (There are 2 other summaries)

Title I: Compensation and Pension Matters - (Sec. 101) Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (Secretary) to prescribe regulations specifying the contents of a currently-required notice to claimants of a complete or substantially complete application, including regarding: (1) different contents for notice depending on whether the claim is an original claim, a claim for reopening a prior decision on a claim, or a claim for increased benefits; (2) additional or alternative contents depending on the benefit or services sought; (3) for each type of claim for benefits, the general information and evidence required; and (4) applicable time limitations.

(Sec. 102) Authorizes the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to review actions taken by the Secretary with respect to the adoption and revision of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) schedule for the rating of veterans' disabilities.

(Sec. 103) Requires that, whenever there is an increase in benefit amounts payable under title II (Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance) of the Social Security Act, the Secretary shall increase by the same percentage the amounts payable as veterans' disability compensation, additional compensation for dependents, the clothing allowance for certain disabled adult children, and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children.

(Sec. 104) Makes a technical correction to the Wounded Warrior Act.

(Sec. 105) Directs the Secretary to report to the congressional veterans committees on progress in addressing the causes of variances in compensation payments for veterans for service-connected disabilities.

(Sec. 106) Requires a report from the Secretary to Congress on findings and actions proposed after the completion of studies concerning: (1) appropriate levels of disability compensation for loss of earning capacity and quality of life as a result of service-related disabilities; and (2) the feasibility and appropriate level of long-term transition payments to veterans separated from the Armed Forces due to disability while undergoing rehabilitation for such disability.

Title II: Housing Matters - (Sec. 201) Provides a temporary increase, from the date of enactment of this Act through December 31, 2011, in the maximum veterans' loan guaranty amount for certain housing loans guaranteed by the VA.

(Sec. 202) Increases, for veterans with home loans, the maximum percentage of an existing loan that the VA will refinance.

(Sec. 203) Extends through FY2012 VA demonstration projects involving adjustable rate and hybrid adjustable rate mortgages.

(Sec. 204) Allows the VA to provide residence assistance grants to active-duty personnel suffering from a disability incurred in or aggravated by such service.

(Sec. 205) Requires a report from the Secretary to the veterans committees on the effects of mortgage foreclosures on veterans.

Title III: Labor and Education Matters - Subtitle A: Labor and Employment Matters - (Sec. 301) Allows the VA program of independent living services and assistance for severely-disabled veterans to extend beyond its normal 24-month limit in the case of veterans who served on active duty during the post-9/11 Global Operations period and whose severe disability was incurred in such service.

(Sec. 302) Amends provisions concerning servicemembers' employment and reemployment rights and benefits under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) to require: (1) complainants to be notified of their rights within five days after receipt of the complaint by the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service; (2) complaint investigation and resolution to be completed within 90 days after their receipt; and (3) the Office of Special Counsel or Attorney General, within 60 days after receiving a complaint referral, to determine whether to provide legal representation to the claimant, and to notify the complainant in writing of such decision. Makes inapplicable any statute of limitations against claims under USERRA.

(Sec. 303) Modifies requirements for annual USERRA case reporting by the Secretary of Labor to require the inclusion of: (1) the number of actions initiated by the Office of Special Counsel before the Merit Systems Protection Board; (2) data of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve; and (3) data concerning those with disabilities. Requires: (1) quarterly reports to Congress from the Secretary of Labor, the Special Counsel, and the Attorney General on their compliance with the deadlines established in the previous section; and (2) a one-time report from the Comptroller General assessing the information received in the quarterly reports.

(Sec. 304) Directs the head of each federal agency to provide training to its human resources personnel on the rights, benefits, and obligations of servicemembers under USERRA, and the agency's application and administration of USERRA requirements with respect to such servicemembers.

(Sec. 305) Requires the Secretary of Labor to report to Congress an assessment of the employment needs of Native American veterans living in or on tribal lands, Alaska Native villages, and Hawaiian home lands.

(Sec. 306) Directs the Secretary to: (1) study measures to assist and encourage veterans in completing vocational rehabilitation; and (2) report study results to the veterans committees.

Subtitle B: Education Matters - (Sec. 311) Extends from 10 to 20 years the time limit for the use of educational benefits under the VA's survivors' and dependents' educational assistance program by the spouse of a member who dies, or is permanently disabled, as the result of a service-connected disability.

(Sec. 312) Eliminates the requirement that educational institutions providing non-accredited courses report to the VA any credit that was granted by that institution for a veteran's prior training.

(Sec. 313) Reduces from 10 to 5 days the required waiting period prior to a veteran student's affirmation of an enrollment agreement with an institution to pursue a program of education exclusively by correspondence.

(Sec. 314) Eliminates the requirement that a veteran or beneficiary make a separate application with hte VA for a program change at an educational institution.

(Sec. 315) Eliminates a minimum wage-earning requirement in the case of self-employment on-job training.

Subtitle C: Other Matters - (Sec. 321) Designates the VA office which supports contracting with small businesses as the Office of Small Business Programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Title IV: Court Matters - (Sec. 401) Increases, as of December 31, 2009, from seven to nine the maximum number of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Court). Provides that, as of January 1, 2013, no appointment may be made to the Court that would result in there being more than nine judges.

(Sec. 402) Directs the Court to prescribe rules to protect privacy and security concerns relating to all filing of documents and the public availability of documents retained by, or filed electronically with, the Court.

(Sec. 403) Repeals the 180-day limit on the number of days per year a recall-eligible retired Court judge may voluntarily serve on the Court in a recall status. Establishes a three-tiered retirement pay structure with respect to Court judges appointed on or after the date of enactment of this Act, with tier one representing retired judges recalled to active service, tier two representing recall-eligible retired judges, and tier three representing non-recall-eligible retired judges. Exempts current and future recall-eligible retired judges from involuntary recall once they have served an aggregate of five years of recall service.

(Sec. 404) Requires the Court's chief judge to report annually to the veterans committees on the Court's workload.

Title V: Insurance Matters - (Sec. 501) Directs the Secretary to report to the defense and veterans committees an assessment of the feasibility and advisability of including severe and acute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among the conditions covered by the traumatic injury protection coverage under Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI).

(Sec. 502) Makes a stillborn child an insurable dependent under SGLI for veterans and their survivors and dependents.

(Sec. 503) Extends full-time and family SGLI coverage to certain members of the Individual Ready Reserve. Terminates a dependent's SGLI coverage 120 days after a member's separation or release from service (rather than 120 days after the member's SGLI coverage terminates). Allows the VA to set premiums for SGLI coverage for the spouses of members of the Individual Ready Reserve based on the spouse's age. Forfeits all rights to Veterans' Group Life Insurance coverage in the case of any individual: (1) found guilty of mutiny, treason, spying, or desertion; or (2) who, because of conscientious objections, refuses to perform military service or wear a military uniform.

Title VI: Other Matters - (Sec. 601) Authorizes the Secretary to: (1) suspend or terminate the collection of debts owed to the United States by individuals who die while serving on active duty; and (2) refund to the estate of an individual any debt previously paid under such circumstances.

(Sec. 602) Extends eligibility for memorial headstones or markers to deceased remarried surviving spouses of veterans, whether or not the remarriage ended by death or divorce.

(Sec. 603) Extends through FY2011 VA authority to obtain information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration for income verification purposes for VA needs-based benefits.

(Sec. 604) Amends the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003 to extend through 2012 VA authority to use appropriated funds to contract with non-VA physicians to perform veterans' medical disability examinations.

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