Last August, the PACT Act was signed into law by the President. The law was largely focused on ensuring that toxin-exposed veterans were provided the benefits they need, but it also instituted various other changes that the VA is slowly incorporating.
One of these changes allows the VA to more easily offer Electronic Notifications for VA Benefits.
On Friday, June 2nd, the VA published proposed changes regarding Electronic Notifications to their internal regulations based on the PACT Act allowances.
The proposed changes are open for public comment until August 1, 2023. The VA will then consider all comments received, make any warranted adjustments, and publish the final changes. The final changes will include an effective date that will indicate when you will start seeing these Electronic Notification changes in action.
The PACT Act removed certain regulations that limited the VA’s ability to send Electronic Notifications but left room for the VA to determine how, when, and in what circumstances to use Electronic Notifications.
The VA now proposes the following changes in regards to Electronic Notifications.
Decisional Notice vs Nondecisional Notice
The VA is proposing to define two different types of notices: decisional and nondecisional. A decisional notice is any notice from the VA that specifically notifies the veteran of an official decision made on a claim, appeal, etc.
A nondecisional notice is any other kind of legally required notice from the VA that does not inform the veteran of an official decision.
The PACT Act removed barriers to electronic communication of decisional notices, but did not address nondecisional notices. The VA thus proposes that both decisional and nondecisional notices be open to electronic communication.
Election of Electronic Notifications
Under the PACT Act, the VA can utilize electronic notifications “if the claimant or claimant’s representative elects electronic notice.”
Once the VA puts these changes into action, each veteran and representative will have the opportunity to choose whether or not to receive electronic notifications. Since a veteran and their representative may have different preferred methods of notification, both will be able to choose separately how they’d like to receive their notifications.
If you choose to receive electronic notifications, then the VA will send all decisional and nondecisional notices only electronically to the email address and/or online account you specify. If you choose to not receive electronic notifications, then all notices will continue to be mailed to the most current address the VA has on file.
If you choose electronic notifications but later want to switch back to physical mailings, you can change that decision in the VA’s system and will no longer receive electronic notifications.
Until recently, Congress had regulations placed on decisional notices that limited them to only being physically mailed, and the date the decisional notice was mailed to the veteran played an important role in the timelines for appeals, etc. If you opt in to receiving electronic notifications, then the date the notification was sent from the VA will be the pivotal date for any pertinent timelines.
Rolling out Electronic Notifications
Once the VA publishes the final rulings for these proposed changes, they will include an effective date when you can start seeing these changes in real life.
The VA acknowledges, however, that some of their infrastructure is not yet ready to handle electronic notifications. In these cases, the VA will continue to use physical mailings until they are able to incorporate electronic notifications into the structure of that branch/office.
This won’t be an issue for basic disability claims as the entire process can already be done digitally through VA.gov, but higher appeal levels may continue to use physical mailings until they are more fully integrated into the VA’s digital system.