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Veterans and Civil Rights Organizations File Federal Lawsuit Against VA for Withholding Information

Released 1/27/16 | Tags:

Veterans and Civil Rights Organizations File Federal Lawsuit Against the VA for Withholding Information and Documents on the Inadequate Health Services the VA Provides to Female Veterans
More than 17 months after nonprofit filed a FOIA request on women’s health, the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs has failed to respond

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – January 27, 2016

WASHINGTON— Today, two national veterans and civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), challenging the VA’s complete refusal to turn over information and documents about the inadequate health care services female veterans receive from the VA’s Veterans’ Health Administration.  The lawsuit alleges that the VA has violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The lawsuit—filed by the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (WLC)—stems from an August 4, 2014 FOIA request the NVLSP submitted to the VA about how the VA’s health system treats female veterans.  Although federal law required the VA to respond within 20 days of the request, more than 17 months have passed since NVLSP’s request, and the VA has not yet responded or produced anything in response to the request. 

About six weeks before NVLSP submitted its FOIA request to the VA, an investigative reporter for the Associated Press uncovered a number of disturbing ways in which the Veterans’ Health Administration was not properly serving the growing number of female veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, including by failing to have full-time gynecologists at one-quarter of VA hospitals, failing to have a designated women’s health care provider at 15% of community-based clinics, and failing to warn female veterans of child-bearing age about the risks of medications that can cause birth defects.

NVLSP’s FOIA request asked the VA to produce, among other things, internal VA communications about the VA’s response to a VA-commissioned study that concluded female veterans of child-bearing age “may not receive appropriate counseling when medications that can cause birth defects are prescribed”; reports and communications about the VA’s failure to satisfy its own standards on “Health Care Services for Women Veterans”; and internal reports on the growing number of female veterans who rely upon VA health services. 

The public and the veteran community deserve to know how the VA is addressing the inequality that female veterans face in the VA’s health system,” said Bart Stichman, the NVLSP’s joint executive director and co-founder.  

“Female veterans have honorably served their country and they deserve to receive equal and adequate health care services from the VA,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, the WLC’s Deputy Director of Litigation and former counsel to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension’s Committee on veterans’ issues. 

The legal complaint is available online here or by emailing ami@steppingstoneLLC.com

The NVLSP is a nonprofit veterans service organization that has served active duty military personnel and veterans since 1980. NVLSP has litigated some of the most significant cases in U.S. history that have secured disability benefits for veterans.

The WLC, a nonprofit civil rights organization founded in 1968, recently established a veterans’ rights project to advocate for veterans and service members in employment, government benefits, and other areas. 

Media Contacts
For NVLSP: Ami Neiberger-Miller, (703) 887-4877, ami@steppingstoneLLC.com
For WLC: Peter Romer-Friedman (718) 938-6132, prf@washlaw.org

ABOUT NVLSP
The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent, nonprofit veterans service organization that has served active duty military personnel and veterans since 1980. NVLSP strives to ensure that our nation honors its commitment to its 22 million veterans and active duty personnel by ensuring they have the federal benefits 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 when seeking disability benefits, 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.

ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE
The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty in the Washington, DC region.  Since then, it has successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups in the areas of equal employment opportunity, fair housing, public accommodations, immigrant rights, disability rights, public education, and prisoners’ rights.  For more information about the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, see www.washlaw.org.

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