Lawsuit challenges delays in VA disability benefits appeals

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Veterans appeals process under fire

A new class-action lawsuit filed April 6 seeks to force the Department of Veterans Affairs to speed up its process for determining appeals from denials of VA disability benefits.

The lawsuit is on behalf of the nearly 290,000 veterans who have been waiting longer than 12 months for a response to their appeals.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Conley Monk Jr., served in the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1971. In 2011, he was diagnosed with combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and applied to the VA for disability benefits. The Hartford, Connecticut VA Regional Office rejected Monk’s application and he filed an appeal in July 2013.

He’s still waiting for a response.

“It’s frustrating to be stuck in limbo. It has been nearly two years since I began my initial appeal by filing a Notice of Disagreement and electing a Decision Review Officer hearing in July 2013, and the VA has still not decided my case,” Monk said in a news release. “While waiting on the VA, my house burned down, and I’ve had significant medical problems, including a botched VA surgery. It’s been hard to make ends meet to get treated for my diabetes and PTSD.”

Representing Monk in the lawsuit is the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, which filed the claim in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

The lawsuit is particularly noteworthy because it is a class-action lawsuit, which is a legal device used to consolidate large numbers of claims against a particular entity. In recent years, federal courts have imposed strict requirements on when claims can proceed as class actions.

This is particularly true in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which was created by Congress in 1988 with the passage of the of Veterans Judicial Review Act. Although the Act does not expressly prohibit class-action lawsuits, the Court has never decided one in its history, according to the blog of the law firm Bosley & Bratch.

“I strongly support action to reform this broken appeals system because justice delayed for these veterans is justice denied, unconscionably and unacceptably,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), ranking member on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit. “I hear from hundreds of veterans whose benefit appeals have languished for months, even years. The VA needs to improve and enhance its processing of appeals from denial of critical benefit applications.”

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic is also representing Monk in another class-action lawsuit, filed in March 2014 on behalf of tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans whom have been denied benefits because they received dishonorable discharges resulting from combat-related PTSD.

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