Released 12/1/20 | Tags: Veteran's Benefits
Veteran Warriors Sues VA Challenging the Amended Rules
Governing the Caregivers Program Adopted by VA Under the VA MISSION Act
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE-December 1, 2020
WASHINGTON – On November 30, 2020, Veteran Warriors, Inc. together with Andrew and Kristie Sheets, filed a complaint in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit challenging the Final Rule adopted by the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) regarding the “Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers Improvements and Amendments Under the VA MISSION Act of 2018” (“Final Rule”).
The complaint, filed with the pro bono assistance of the National Veterans Legal Services Program and Sidley Austin LLP, challenges the Final Rule’s new eligibility requirements regarding serious injury, in need of personal care services, inability to perform one or more of seven activities of daily living (ADLs), a need for supervision, protection or instruction, and geographic residence. The complaint asserts that the “VA’s Final Rule is arbitrary and capricious and exceeds VA authority.”
“The VA’s adoption of the Final Rule is not only unlawful, it would cut off veterans and their caregivers from a program of benefits and services they deseperately need,” said Lauren Price, Founder/Managing Director of Veteran Warriors, Inc. “The Final Rule is doubly cruel for veterans and caregivers who are in critical need of assistance because the Final Rule not only restricts the number of veterans who qualify for benefits, but also the amount of benefits for those who do qualify. Unfortunately, legacy veterans, who were supposed to benefit from this rule, would be the ones most likely to suffer by this rule.”
“The VA’s Final Rule creates such a high standard of eligibility for our vulnerable veterans and caregivers that either by design or default thousands of veterans would now be left without critical assistance. During a pandemic and at a time when the VA is attempting to reduce veterans suicides, the VA should be ensuring that needy veterans have access to vital caregiver services rather than limiting their access,” said National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) Executive Director Bart Stichman.
The petitioners - Andrew Sheets
Plaintiff Andrew Sheets is a highly decorated Navy SEAL veteran who deployed to Afghanistan in October 2003, and undertook 33 combat missions through February 2004. After his honorable discharge in August 2006, VA awarded Mr. Sheets service connection for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with anxiety and panic attacks and secondary depression and episodic alcohol abuse in sustained remission, and a 70% rating, effective in September 2006. VA also awarded him service connection for several other disabilities. During his deployment, Mr. Sheets was prescribed mefloquine after which he reported having vivid, hallucinogenic dreams and developing intense paranoia. He was later diagnosed with mefloquine toxicity. His total combined disability rating was 90%, effective as of September 2006.
In October 2011, VA increased Mr. Sheets’ rating to 100% for PTSD. VA also granted his application for Caregiver Program benefits, effective in 2011. Yet, VA’s Final Rule adversely affects Mr. Sheets and his primary caregiver, Kristie Sheets, because the rule makes it more difficult to qualify and threatens his entitlement to benefits under the program.
Plaintiff Veteran Warriors Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides advocacy, research, and outreach for its 5,000 veteran members, of which about 70% (3,500) participate in the VA Caregiver Program. Many of these 3,500 VA Caregiver Program members would also have standing to sue in their own right because they face imminent harm directly related to the changes in the Final Rule. Challenging the Final Rule to protect its members who are in or eligible for the VA Caregiver Program is also material to VW’s mission, which seeks solutions and accountability for veterans and their families who are entitled to benefits that they have earned through their service, including the VA Caregiver Program.
Background on The Caregiver Act
In 2010, Congress passed the “Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2011” (“Caregiver Act”). The Caregiver Act required VA to establish a comprehensive program to benefit family caregivers of eligible veterans who have had a serious injury incurred in the line of duty after September 11, 2001, and who are “in need of personal care services because of--(i) an inability to perform one or more activities of daily living; (ii) a need for supervision or protection based on symptoms or residuals of neurological or other impairment or injury; (iii) a need for regular or extensive instruction or supervision without which the ability of the veteran to function in daily life would be seriously impaired,” or other reasons that VA considers appropriate.
In 2018, Congress expanded the Caregiver Act (through the VA MISSION Act) to add eligibility for additional veterans who incurred a serious injury in the line of duty before September 11, 2001. But instead of expanding eligibility based on the VA MISSION Act, the VA narrowed the eligibility criteria for the Caregiver Program in the Final Rule by limiting the number of veterans who would qualify for benefits as well as the amount of the benefits for those eligible veterans.
The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent, nonprofit veterans service organization that has served active duty military personnel and veterans since 1981. NVLSP strives to ensure that our nation honors its commitment to its 22 million veterans and active duty personnel by ensuring they have the benefits they have earned through their service to our country. NVLSP has represented veterans in lawsuits that compelled enforcement of the law where the VA or other military services denied benefits to veterans in violation of the law. NVLSP’s success in these lawsuits has resulted in more than $5.2 billion being awarded in disability, death and medical benefits to hundreds of thousands of veterans and their survivors. NVLSP 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.
For NVLSP: Patty Briotta, office 202-621-5698 or email: email@example.com