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VSOs File Lawsuit to Stop VA From Changing Informal Claims Process & Limiting Claims It Adjudicates

Released 4/7/15 | Tags: Veteran's Benefits

American Legion, AMVETS, Military Order of the Purple Heart, the National Veterans Legal Services Program and the Vietnam Veterans of America ask court to declare VA rule eliminating informal  claims unlawful


WASHINGTON – America’s leading veterans service organizations have filed a lawsuit against Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert A. McDonald seeking to stop the implementation of a new VA rule eliminating most informal VA claims and limiting the types of claims VA will adjudicate.

The American Legion, AMVETS, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, and the Vietnam Veterans of America joined forces to file the lawsuit together.

The lawsuit seeks to have VA’s new rule eliminating the most important part of the informal VA claims process, and limiting the types of inferred claims VA adjudicates, declared unlawful. The case was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on March 20.

Injured veterans will suffer under a new rule implemented by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that went into effect on March 24, 2015.  Under VA’s longstanding informal adjudication process, benefits awarded to veterans are paid retroactively starting on the date on which the VA received a notice from the veteran (usually a letter) signaling an intent to file.  Under the new rules, writing a letter to VA stating you want to file a VA claim for disability compensation for a medical condition that the veteran believes is connected to his or her military service will no longer start a VA claim on their behalf. 

Additionally, under the final rule, VA severely limits the types of benefits that the agency will adjudicate when presented with a disability benefits claim by a veteran.  If a veteran files a disability claim based on post-traumatic stress disorder but fails to mention in the application that he or she lost both legs in combat, VA is purportedly no longer obligated to develop or adjudicate any benefits related to the veteran’s amputations—even if the service treatment record documents the amputations.  This policy change stands to hurt countless veterans, but especially those returning from combat, who often have multiple injuries and disabilities.

“We are fighting a legal battle today on behalf of our country’s injured and disabled veterans.  Our nation’s promise to care for its injured and disabled veterans is being diluted by this new VA rule.  This rule will ensnare, harm and frustrate many who qualify for veteran disability benefits,” said attorney Ron Abrams, joint executive director of NVLSP.  “Sadly, the people who will suffer from VA’s actions are hundreds of thousands of injured and disabled veterans and their families.”

According to the information VA published in the Federal Register, informal claims account for roughly half of all claims VA receives.  Advocates believe these rule changes will affect hundreds of thousands of disabled and injured veterans and their families, especially elderly and impoverished veterans without access to the internet.

The case is receiving pro-bono legal assistance from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.

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.

Media contact: Ami Neiberger-Miller, 703-887-4877, ami@steppingstoneLLC.com


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