(WASHINGTON, DC) – On February 24, 2010, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), the United Spinal Association, and the Veterans Law Section of the Federal Bar Association sent a letter to Secretary Shinseki regarding the Department’s plans for complying with the requirements of the Rehabilitation Act in Department notices to claimants.
“The letter was prompted by certain requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Section 504), in promulgating the Department’s notices and other information to claimants. Our inquiry to the Secretary was driven by recent federal court decisions requiring the Department of the Treasury and the Social Security Administration to implement enhanced communications methods in compliance with the Act,” said VVA National President John Rowan. Under the act, federal departments are required to send notice to claimants in a variety of manners. In order to comply with the Act, and recent court cases, the Social Security Administration will “automatically grant requests for communication formats listed below:
- Standard print notice by first class mail or certified receipt; or
- Standard print notice by first class mail and a follow-up telephone call to read the notices to claimants within five business days of the date the claimant received the print notice; or
- Standard print notice and Braille by first class mail; or
- Standard print notice and a Microsoft Word compact disc by first class mail. The compact disc may be used on a computer that has software needed to access Word.”
“The reason we sent the letter to the Secretary is in the hopes that the VA will also adopt and implement these notice requirements. VVA believes this may greatly reduce the number of VA notices and correspondence that are delivered to the wrong address or are not properly understood by recipients,” noted Rowan.
On March 26, 2010, Will A. Gunn, VA General Counsel, responded to our letter. Gunn wrote that the VA “plans to implement the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Section 504), in promulgating the Department’s notices and other information to claimants.” VA is also reviewing the best practices currently in use by other federal agencies and they may also partner with the American Council of the Blind. Said Rowan, “We are guardedly optimistic that VA will do the right thing and properly notify claimants for VA benefits. VVA will monitor the VA's performance on this promise.”