Lawsuits against the VA achieved more by being thrown out of Court.


disabled_veterans_wheel_chair_01Lawsuits against the VA achieved more by being thrown out of Court.

Despite the status of two historic lawsuits filed by four Veterans Service Organizations being thrown out by federal judges, these lawsuits have not been a total failure.

They have resulted in law changes that now allow Veterans to get an attorney upon receipt of Statement of the Case throwing the Vet into the long and drawn out VA Appeals process.

The lawsuits led to a growing number of attorneys now getting certification to represent Veterans before Regional Office or U.S. Court of Appeals. In fact, these lawsuits once opposed by Old Guard VSOs who advocated an non-confrontational approach with the VA, has exposed just how much legal representation the VSOs really pay for even as they seek to repeal the law in Congress.

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Veterans Advocacy Editor
VT News Network


FEDERAL JUDGE THROWS OUT LATEST LAWSUIT AGAINST VA — Judge says that imposing a quicker deadline for payment of benefits was a role for Congress and the VA Secretary, not the Courts.

That was way back in December 17, 2008. However, despite any federal judge’s attempts to stifle Veterans Rights has there been any real change in how Veterans get access to legal assistance or expediting of VA Claims and Appeals. I believe the answers are YES and NO! It is the NO part that means in addition to never ending class action lawsuits regardless how many times they get thrown out, WE must continue sending the same message that America’s Veterans are not happy campers. In addition to class action lawsuits, it is getting much easier to access an attorney that even the Old Guard VSOs have been doing it.

1139323826291 Dateline – July 23, 2007, two Veterans activists groups representing thousands of American veterans, Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) and Veterans for Truth [not to be confused with the partisan political group Swiftboat Veterans for Truth] filed a class action lawsuit that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) flagrantly violates the constitutional and statutory rights of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the country. The complaint sought to prohibit the VA from vuftlogobuttoncontinuing a number of improper practices in handling claims for health care and disability benefits. These included shredding of claims forms, refusing to adjudicate claims or appeals, and various delaying tactics. As of today, there are still not timelines of what’s expected of VA employees to respond to America’s Vets yet the burden is entirely on Veterans to meet timelines set upon us. Most disabled veterans still (2009) cannot receive medical treatment without a disability claim approval. However, the VA had a backlog of over 600,000 claims that has yet to be resolved, and a decision on a claim can take up to twelve to fifteen years. The VA management strategy is blatantly waiting out, especially elderly Veterans to die of whatever illness that may be related to their service. Some pending claims go back to the Vietnam era.

The suit claimed that numerous VA practices violated the constitutional and statutory rights of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by denying veterans adequate procedural safeguards in the VA benefits process, access to the judicial process, mandated medical care, and VA benefits as a result of their PTSD. In addition to seeking a declaration from the court that these practices violate the constitutional and statutory rights of the Plaintiffs, the lawsuit sought an injunction preventing the defendants [the VA] from continuing certain policies and procedures. No damages are being sought.

[Note: although no monetary damages were being sought by the class action lawsuit, individuals within the class filed separate but related lawsuits demanding damages be paid. The VA paid out substantial total awards, and in most cases settled out of court in an attempt to avoid admitting guilt. Frankly, the VA’s willingness to settle without legal challenge was an admission of guilt that continues today. Editor]

logo_01 Plaintiffs in the case included two non-profit organizations, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, on behalf of all veterans, and family members, who were seeking or receiving health care or disability benefits from the VA. Plaintiffs were and still are represented by the California-based public interest law firm Disability Rights Advocates (DRA).

"The VA’s motto, taken from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, is ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan,’" said Melissa Kasnitz of DRA. "The VA is not living up to its motto or its obligation to care for our disabled veterans. Instead it is abandoning our veterans, shamefully following a path that will lead to broken lives and staggering social costs." What Ms. Kasnitz said way back in 2008 is just as true today.

Among those veterans suffering the most are Iraq and Afghanistan troops returning home with mental disabilities. As many as 15-50% of returning troops have PTSD, according to the complaint. These troops are being deprived of critical mental health services, especially in the early phases of the illness when identification and treatment are crucial. Left untreated, severe PTSD can lead to substance abuse, depression and suicide. Veterans with PTSD and other psychiatric disabilities may also be the most unprepared to face the bureaucratic battles necessary to secure the benefits to which they are entitled.

9780313346507_400_01The suit alleged that the VA has not only shortchanged the disabled veterans for whom they are supposed to provide care, but it has also consistently presented misleading statistics to the American public. Specifically, the complaint says that the VA has falsely understated the length of time it takes to decide a veteran’s claims and the true cost of caring for disabled veterans.

"Our Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans want immediate access to high-quality VA healthcare and benefits when they return home," says Paul Sullivan, Executive Director for Veterans for Common Sense. "After the terrible failures following the Vietnam War and Gulf War, never again shall our government turn its back on our veterans when they return home from war. We must do everything we can to prevent more veterans from falling in the cracks that lead to broken families, unemployment, alcoholism, drug abuse, crime and homelessness. When one of our combat veterans walks into a VA hospital, then they must see a doctor that day. When a war veteran needs disability benefits because he or she can’t work, then they must get a disability check in a few weeks. Since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars began, the VA has betrayed our veterans. Instead of hiring more doctors and claims processors, the VA instituted new policies that block veterans’ access to prompt mental healthcare. America should be outraged. While we are reluctant to file suit against the VA, it is the VA’s anti-veteran policies that leave us no other option than to fight for what our veterans earned after fighting on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"This lawsuit is unprecedented," said attorney Sid Wolinsky with DRA. "It is the first class action lawsuit to directly challenge the VA’s unconscionable backlog of claims, the endless waiting time that disabled veterans face in receiving appropriate mental health care from the VA, and the adequacy of VA care for PTSD."

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can develop in a person who witnesses, or is confronted with, a traumatic event. PTSD is the most prevalent mental disorder arising from combat. According to the complaint, "more than any previous war, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to produce a high percentage of troops suffering from PTSD," due to the widespread use of improvised explosive devises, multiple rotations, the ambiguity of fighting combatants dressed as civilians, and the use of National Guard members and Reservists

More details

End of Part One.

Due to the details and length of article, it will be presented in two parts. The second part will cover two additional VSOs that filed class action lawsuits plus show that the concerns of Veterans goes far beyond any one generation of Vets or any partisan political ideology, because the systematic problems with the VA still exists TODAY – regardless how much money politicians throw at it to compete for the Veterans VOTE. Pray that one day they never realize they don’t need the Veterans VOTE!

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Veterans Advocacy Editor
VT News Network


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Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I've posted on Veterans Today, I've had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I've been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I'm now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.