Vets Battle to Bring Class Action Suits Over Benefits

Posted on Feb 16, 2016

Those who believe they have suffered financial or physical harm due to a dangerous product, a discriminatory employer or any of thousands of other wrongs have the right in most state and federal courts to bring a class action lawsuit which allows groups of people to combine resources and file a single suit.  However, the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, created by Congress in 1988, says that it is not allowed to hear class action lawsuits brought by veterans who group together to fight for their benefits.  Veterans’ benefits cases, this court says, must be presented one at a time.

But that dictate is being challenged. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “Now, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is considering whether (the rules) should change to allow class actions in the veterans’ court.” This case started last year with a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims with a group of veterans who filed a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of other veterans who are waiting for benefits. The vets are seeking faster decisions by the Department of Veterans Affairs saying that VA delays are causing financial and medical hardships.

The Justice Department, representing the VA, is likely to weigh in on this issue with a court filing this month.  In the past, the VA has opposed class action suits by veterans.

The Wall Street Journal says, “Underlying the current fight is what critics call an over-congested disability claims system. While the VA has cut its backlog of disability claims to 74,955, an 88% drop from its peak in 2013, the number of veterans appealing initial disability decisions has risen in the past two years. In the 12 months ending in September, veterans initiated 169,068 appeals—an appeal rate of 14.6%, up from 11% the prior year. Going through an appeal takes nearly four years on average.”

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Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska