77 Op. Att'y Gen. 49 (1988)

Wisconsin Attorney General Opinions
 
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Opinion # OAG 8-88,

25 February 1988

Confidential Reports; Veterans;

Under current law the authority of the
Department of Veterans Affairs to release
veterans loan status information to lenders
and credit reporting agencies is
very limited.

JOHN J. MAURER,
Secretary Department of Veterans Affairs

You ask whether loan status information
regarding veterans receiving benefits from
your department may be released to credit
reporting agencies and grantors of credit.

It is my opinion that your authority to do
so is severely limited under current law.

As with all governmental agencies, records on
file with your agency are presumed to be open
to the public under the public records law.

However, Section 19.36(1), Stats.,
provides as follows:

Any record which is specifically
exempted from disclosure by state or
federal law or authorized to be exempted
from disclosure by state law is exempt
from disclosure under Section 19.35(1),
except that any portion of that record
which contains public information is
open to public inspection as provided in
Subsection 19.35(6).

For your question, the pertinent statute is
Section 45.36 which reads as follows in
pertinent part:

45.36(5) DISCLOSURE OF MONETARY BENEFITS.

The department shall disclose to any
person who requests such information the
amount of any grant or loan made by the
department to any applicant.

A person seeking such information shall
be required to sign a statement setting
forth his name, his address, his reason
for making such request and certifying
that he will not use the information
obtained for commercial or political
purposes.

45.36(6) DISCLOSURE OF OTHER INFORMATION.

Except as provided in Subsections
45.36(2) to 45.36(5), all files,
records, reports, papers and documents
pertaining to applications for benefits
from the department, and information
contained therein, shall only be
released by the department or service
office pursuant to rules of the
department.

Such rules must provide for the
furnishing of information required for
official purposes by any agency of the
U.S. government, any agency of this
state, any law enforcement or public
welfare agency of any Wisconsin county,
or by members of the state senate and
assembly, and will otherwise provide for
release of personal information
pertaining to or contained in any
application for benefits, whether
pending or adjudicated, only where
authorized in writing by the applicants
or where necessary to assist applicants
in securing veterans benefits to which
they may be entitled or where necessary
for the efficient management of loans
made by the department.

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It appears that the statutory exceptions
in Subsections 45.36(2) to 45.36(5)
are not pertinent.

Therefore, pursuant to subsection 45.36(6)
it is necessary to refer to department rules.

The pertinent ones read as follows:

Release of information and records.
All records and papers of the department
or of a county veterans service
office, hereinafter in this Section
referred to as service office, are to be
utilized in a manner to best serve the
public interest, but the veteran's right
of privacy as to information pertaining
to his military or naval service and to
confidential information contained in
applications for benefits will be
respected. . . . . . .

45.36(3) RECORDS ARE CONFIDENTIAL.

Records pertaining to any application
for benefits, whether pending or
adjudicated, will be deemed confidential
and no disclosure therefrom will be made
except in the circumstances and under
the conditions set forth in Subsections
45.36(4) through 45.36(15), and any
person making application for benefits
shall hereinafter be referred to as the
applicant. . . . . .

45.36(7) DISCLOSURE OF LOAN INFORMATION.

Information contained in loan files,
information pertaining to action taken
by the department on loan applications,
or loan status information may be made
available to any party having a security
interest in the property securing such
loans upon approval by the secretary
or pursuant to rules promulgated by him.
. . . . . . . . .

45.36(13) RELEASE OF INFORMATION TO
AUTHORIZED LENDERS.

All information and exhibits in the
possession of the department pertaining
to direct housing loan applications or
direct housing loans may be released
to authorized lenders servicing, closing
or processing the applications or loans
involved.

Wis. Admin. Code Section VA 1.10

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In summary, loan status information is made
confidential by Section VA 1.10(3) and
Section VA 1.10(7) and VA 1.10(13) are
the only exceptions that have a bearing
on the question you pose.

However, the exceptions authorize release of
loan status information only under very
limited circumstances.

They do not authorize release of such
information to credit reporting agencies
and grantors of credit, generally.

Rather, under Section VA 110(7), it appears
loan status information may be released to a
grantor of credit only where it has a
security interest in the property
which secures the grantor's loan.

If you consider exercising your rulemaking
authority under Section 45.36 to adopt a new
rule on this subject, you should be mindful
of the parameters of that authority.

Since a rule authorizing release to credit
agencies and grantors would not fall within
the authority to release information to the
various specified governmental agencies and
officials, it would have to qualify
as a rule that:

Will otherwise provide for release of
personal information pertaining to or
contained in any application for
benefits, whether pending or
adjudicated, only where authorized in
writing by the applicants or where
necessary to assist applicants in
securing veterans benefits to which they
may be entitled or where necessary for
the efficient management of loans
made by the department.

If these qualifications are not acceptable,
it is my opinion that the underlying
rulemaking authority in Section 45.36
will have to be changed.

DJH:RWL

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