by Bob Cattanach
America is watching and waiting with anticipation to see the results of President Obama’s $789 billion economic stimulus package. The new Administration and the 111th Congress worked decisively in their first month on the job to address one of the most serious issues facing our country in decades.
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki should follow our Commander in Chief’s lead by quickly delivering an “economic stimulus”
to those who have served and sacrificed, but are stuck in a morass of red tape that slows — by many months, and often, years — the delivery of the disability benefits to which our veterans are entitled. Plainly and simply, the VA owes the money – it’s just a question of getting it into disabled veterans’ hands quickly.
Currently, veterans are forced to wait, on average, anywhere from six months to more than a year, for initial decisions on their disability claims. That’s not good for them, and it’s not good for the economy — just ask the disabled veterans forced out of their homes because their families cannot afford their mortgage payments, and the mortgage owners who take the hit on these foreclosed properties.
By acting promptly, the VA could infuse millions of dollars immediately into the American economy by paying the equivalent of a 30% disability benefit payment to the hundreds of thousands of American veterans being forced to wait to receive the benefits they have earned. This “stimulus” isn’t part of new legislation. It doesn’t need to be voted on by the House and Senate.
It doesn’t need to be approved by the President. Indeed, these funds are already there, having been authorized by Congress every single year when they approve the VA’s budget.
Providing prompt financial support to our disabled veterans is an important part of the promise that this country makes to its soldiers when they join the armed forces. It’s no secret that veterans are a group that has been hit especially hard by this financial downturn.
In addition to immediately infusing cash into our economy, a veterans stimulus — in nothing more than the form of the prompt delivery of disability benefits to America’s veterans — would act as an essential financial lifeline to those veterans suffering from the disabling physical and psychological consequences of their service to their country. Foreclosures on many disabled veterans’ homes would be prevented. The suffering of families in crisis would be eased.
Moreover, this short-term infusion of millions of dollars a month into the economy should have happened long ago; the continued neglect of the VA in resolving veterans’ claims promptly is what has prevented it. It is a national disgrace that the VA’s backlog of disability claims has, in just five years, jumped from 250,000 to more than 600,000. That staggering number will only increase as the over 1.7 million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan become eligible for benefits.
The Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and Veterans of Modern Warfare (VMW) are urging prompt action to fix a disability claims system that the General Accountability Office and the Congress have, on numerous occasions, decried as broken. The VVA and VMW were forced to sue the VA in Washington, D.C. federal court in order to get the VA to live up both to its statutory mandate, and moral duty, to process disability claims expeditiously.
The VVA and VMW seek a 90-day deadline for decisions on initial claims for disability benefits, and for appeals of those decisions to be resolved within 180 days. The VVA and VMW have asked that these deadlines — reasonable by any assessment — be enforced by the Court, at least partially, via the provision by the VA of interim monetary payments equivalent to a disability rating of 30% to those veterans whose claims have been delayed beyond the 90-/180-day periods. Such payments would furnish a minimal lifeline of support to veterans when they most need it.
Visit www.veteransnewsroom.com to learn more about the VVA and VMW lawsuit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bob Cattanach is an attorney on the case from Dorsey & Whitney LLP.