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Class Action Lawsuit Filed To Help Navy and Marine Corps Combat Veterans Receive Disability Benefits

Released 7/25/12 | Tags: Class Actions

CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT FILED TO HELP NAVY AND MARINE CORPS COMBAT VETERANS RECEIVE DISABILITY BENEFITS WRONGFULLY DENIED BY THE NAVY
Attorneys Estimate 1,000 Vets May Have Been Denied Benefits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – July 25, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As many as 1,000 injured Marine Corps and Navy combat veterans may have been discharged from the military without millions of dollars in disability benefits to which they are entitled. Lawyers from the National Veterans Legal Services Program and co-counsel Crowell & Moring LLP filed a class action lawsuit today, Bargsley v. United States, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to try to help these wounded warriors.

In their legal complaint, the plaintiffs assert that the Department of the Navy failed to promptly implement a Department of Defense (DOD) directive requiring it to determine if disabilities leading to the medical separation of sailors and Marines were “combat related.” This determination controls certain federal disability benefits to which medically separated veterans are entitled.

The DOD directive at issue implemented a law which Congress enacted in 2008.  That law, 10 U.S.C. § 1212(d), entitles service members who are medically separated to both military and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability benefits if the service branch determines that the disability which led to the separation was “combat-related.” Prior law prohibited veterans from receiving both military and VA disability benefits for the same disability – regardless of whether it was combat-related.

Shortly after Congress amended the law in 2008, DOD directed the military services to make written determinations, whenever a service member was medically separated, as to whether the disability leading to the separation was combat-related. The Army and the Air Force promptly implemented this directive, but the Navy failed to do so.

As a result, attorneys believe hundreds of Marines and sailors who were discharged during this time period were denied thousands of dollars in compensation that they were owed due to their combat-related injuries.

At some as yet unknown point, the Department of the Navy realized its mistake and started making combat-related determinations. But it did not take action to correct the errors made in the past.

“Due to this failure, at least 1,000 Navy and Marine Corps combat veterans may have suffered a loss of up to $20 million dollars in disability benefits that would have helped them and their families build new lives after leaving military service,” said Bart Stichman, joint executive director of NVLSP.

“These Marines and sailors volunteered to serve their country. They were injured in combat in wartime. We want to ensure that these combat veterans receive the benefits they are entitled to,” said Stichman.

More information and the legal complaint are available at www.nvlsp.org.

If you were medically separated from the Navy or Marine Corps after January 28, 2008 and believe that the VA may be wrongly reducing your monthly VA payments to recover the military severance payment you received upon discharge, call NVLSP’s toll-free telephone number at 1-877-345-8387.

ABOUT THE NAMED PLAINTIFFS
Dustin Bargsley served honorably as an anti-tank assault guided missile man in the Marine Corps from 2004-2008. He served in Fallujah, Iraq from July 2006 to February 2007, where he was exposed to car bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it was determined he could no longer serve in the military. The Navy medically separated him, and he received a one-time lump sum disability severance payment. The Navy did not make a written determination about whether these injuries were combat-related. Bargsley then applied to the VA for benefits. Because his military records did not contain a determination that his PTSD was combat-related, the VA notified Bargsley that it “must hold back all of your VA compensation until this severance amount is paid back” and “after an amount equal to your severance pay allowance is paid back, you’ll start receiving your full VA compensation.”  Had the Navy found his injuries to be combat-related, Bargsley would have received the full amount of his VA disability compensation to which he was entitled. The Navy actions denied Bargsley $17,156.96 in tax-free benefits to which he is entitled.

Randy Howard served honorably in the Marine Corps from 2003-2008. He served two tours in Iraq, most recently in 2006, where he was exposed to a close-proximity IED blast and multiple gunfire engagements, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. After he was diagnosed with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury, the Navy determined he should be separated from military service. When he was discharged, the Navy did not make a determination that his injuries were combat-related. He received a single disability several payment from the Navy, and when Howard applied to the VA for benefits was told his VA benefits would be withheld up to the full amount of his severance payment. As a result, Howard lost thousands of dollars in disability benefits to which he was entitled and would have helped him begin a new life in the civilian world. Howard was denied $24,573.60 in tax-free benefits to which he is entitled.

Sonny Morrison served honorably as a rifleman in the Marine Corps from 2006-2008. He was deployed to one of the most violent areas in Iraq, the Al-Anbar Province, during the troop surge. He saw daily military action and was exposed to mortar fire, sniper fire and blasts from IEDs. In December 2007, Morrison was diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. His injuries were so severe that he could no longer serve in the military and he received a one-time lump sum disability severance payment. The Navy did not make a written determination whether these injuries were combat-related. The VA informed him that because his military records did not show his injuries had been determined to be combat-related, it “must hold back part of your VA compensation until this severance amount is paid back” and “after an amount equal to your severance pay allowance is paid back, you’ll start receiving your full VA compensation.”  Had the Navy found his injuries to be combat-related, Morrison would have received the full amount of his VA disability compensation to which he was entitled. Morrison was denied $21,200.83 in tax-free benefits to which he is entitled.

ABOUT NVLSP
The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent, nonprofit veteran service organization that has served active duty personnel and veterans since 1980. NVLSP strives to ensure that our nation honors its commitment to its 25 million veterans and active duty personnel by providing them the federal benefits that they have earned through their service to our country. NVSLP offers training for attorneys and other advocates, connects veterans and active duty personnel with pro bono legal help, publishes the nation’s definitive guide on veteran benefits, and represents and litigates for veterans and their families before the VA, military discharge review agencies, and federal courts. For more information go to www.nvlsp.org.

CONTACT FOR NEWS MEDIA/PRESS INTERVIEWS: Ami Neiberger-Miller, ami@steppingstonellc.com

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