What recourse do veterans have if they have been denied disability benefits?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, put in place by Congress in 1998, does not hear cases that aggregate veterans' denial of benefit complaints. Now, a group of veterans is arguing that this policy denies them of their right to bring class-action lawsuits to fight grievances.
The group has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of thousands of veterans who have suffered financial and medical hardship because of delayed claims. The overarching issue is whether the court's refusal to hear cases brought on behalf of a class of veterans denies them recourse typically available in most state and federal courts.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit?
A class action lawsuit is one in which a group of people who have suffered the same or similar injuries caused by the same product or action sue the defendant as a group. By combining the suits, thousands of claims can be resolved at the same time, rather than being litigated individually.
In this case, the veterans argue that they have been harmed by delays in the Veterans Administration's response to disability claims. Each of the veterans in the group has waited for more than a year to have disability claims reviewed. By being denied recourse to bring these cases as a class action, the veterans must wait for their cases to be taken up individually, which will only result in further delays, given the backlog of veteran claims.
Backlog of VA disability claims
The VA has reportedly cut its backlog of disability claims over the last two years by 88 percent to 74,955. However, the number of appeals over initial disability decisions has risen during this time: 14.6 percent of disability decisions were appealed. The average appeal can take as long as four years and often involves multiple rounds of appeals.
Meanwhile the VA agrees that the Veterans Appeals Court should block class actions. In fact, at legislative hearings in 2009 and 2001, agency representatives testified that class actions would "divert the court's scarce resources." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is considering whether the veteran's court should now allow class actions to be heard.
In the meantime, if you have been denied disability benefits by the Veteran's Administration, you should consult with a qualified attorney.