As our nation strives to care for disabled veterans returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking steps to make its benefit programs easier for veterans to understand. Like most other Federal agencies, many of VA's regulations reflect the very technical "government writing style" that most Americans have had to tolerate far too long. VA is reorganizing and rewriting in plain language its regulations for all compensation and pension benefit programs. These regulations govern programs which provide more than $41 billion annually to approximately 3.7 million disabled veterans, their families, and their survivors. Our goal is to rewrite these regulations in a logical, claimant-focused, and user-friendly format, in order to help veterans, their families, and VA personnel understand regulatory provisions that directly affect compensation and pension determinations.
This project began shortly after Secretary Anthony J. Principi took office in 2001. In May of that year, he tasked VA to "[d]evelop a plan for a comprehensive review of Title 38, CFR, to determine what regulations need modification, are out of date, or are no longer pertinent." In October 2001, the Secretary's VA Claims Processing Task Force recommended that VA "First, rewrite and organize the C&P Regulations in a logical and coherent manner. . . ." The Secretary endorsed that recommendation and launched the effort to reorganize and rewrite VA's Compensation and Pension Regulations. The Secretary subsequently garnered White House and Congressional approval for the establishment of an Office of Regulation Policy and Management, working directly for him, to provide centralized management and coordination of VA's rulemaking process. One of the major functions of this office is to oversee the VA Regulation Rewrite Project as it improves the clarity of existing VA regulations. Consistent with our effort to simplify material and write in plain language, our goal is simple: to write regulations that people can read, understand, and apply.
Although some of our rewritten regulations entail no substantive changes, and therefore need not be published for notice and comment under the Administrative Procedure Act, we decided that it would be helpful to seek public input on all the rewritten regulations. We published them for comment in 20 separate proposed rulemaking packages, which were an average of more than 100 pages. In 2012, we plan to respond to comments and publish all the regulations together in one rulemaking for another round of public comments. We then plan to publish the Final Rule.
For a more detailed description of VA's Regulation Rewrite Project, see, "Serving Our Veterans Through Clearer Rules," published in the Winter 2004 edition of the American Bar Association's Administrative Law Review and "Making Veterans Benefits Clear: VA's Regulation Rewrite Project" published in the Spring 2009 edition of that same publication.