The VA lawsuit targets changes to the final rule, coming into effect this past March and undertaken by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The gist of the change has been to eliminate an informal claims process, which had been observed for some years, allowing qualifying veterans to apply for benefits by way of any written communication, including an informal letter. Such a letter or informal written application for benefits was recognized in the past as a qualifying notice to inform the VA of the veteran’s intent to file a formal application for benefits within the year.
No longer. As of March 24 of this year, informal letters of intent are no longer accepted. Instead, standard forms are required to signal intent to apply for disabled veteran’s benefits. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit - Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Disabled American Veterans (DAV) - hold that the change serves to benefit the VA and is unfriendly to veterans, delaying the effective date of the claim and denying compensation to vets.
“The VFW doesn’t oppose the use of standardized forms,” said William L. Bradshaw, VFW director of the National Veterans Service, which assists veterans in filing VA claims. “Our opposition is to this all-or-nothing approach that VA is forcing on veterans - changes, that if left in place, will guarantee in this year alone that tens of thousands of service-connected wounded, ill and injured veterans will be denied benefits they were entitled to before the change.”
The national service director of the DAV echoes those sentiments.
“The new policy is both inflexible and unsupportive for veterans,” says Jim Marszalek.“Some veterans may be physically, mentally or financially unable to access the correct forms and VA is not providing a reasonable accommodation.”
Veterans and their families for years have been complaining about the delays often experienced in securing deserved and much-needed VA disability benefits. While the VA of late has been trumpeting a trend that has seen the backlog of applications steadily reduced, a backlog remains nonetheless. Advocates for veterans opine that the change doesn’t help speed things up. If anything, it will slow the process down.
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“Congress’ intent for the VA was to create a system that would ‘fully and sympathetically develop the veteran’s claim to its optimum before deciding on its merits,’ and that is clearly not the case with this new policy,” Marszalek said.
The Veterans benefits lawsuit was filed in May. The case is Disabled American Veterans et al. v. US Department of Veterans Affairs, case number 15-7081, in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.