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Lawsuit Says VA Mishandled Claims & VA Failing Mideast Vets, Lawsuit Contends

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by goingonhope, Jul 24, 2007.

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  1. goingonhope

    goingonhope Member Premium Member

    Lawsuit says VA mishandled claims

    By Laura Parker, USA TODAY

    July 23, 2007

    A coalition of disabled Iraq war veterans sued the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday, accusing the VA of illegally denying or delaying claims for disability pay and mental health treatment.

    The lawsuit names Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, among others, and asks for sweeping changes in the way the federal government handles claims of more than 1.6 million veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

    "We're asking the court to set time standards. When veterans apply for medical care, it takes months and years," said Gordon Erspamer, one of the attorneys who filed the suit. He said changes are needed now "because of the huge influx of claims that will be coming through the pipeline in the next year or two."

    Filed on behalf of an estimated 750,000 veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the lawsuit is the latest in a list of complaints about the quality of medical care provided to veterans returning from war. This month, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ordered the VA to pay retroactive benefits to Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange who have contracted leukemia.

    VA spokesman Matt Smith declined to comment on the pending lawsuit. He told the Associated Press that the VA "ensures … servicemembers have access to the widely recognized quality health care they have earned."

    Some of the alleged shortcomings named in the suit include:

    • A backlog of up to 600,000 disability payments, with delays of up to 177 days for initial claims.

    • A shortage of treatment programs for post-traumatic stress disorder.

    • A classification of post-traumatic stress disorder claims as "pre-existing personality disorders" in order to deny veterans disability or medical treatment.

    Steve Edwards, an Army sergeant who returned from Iraq in 2005, said he almost lost his house while he waited 14 months without income for disability compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder.

    "The system is broken," he said Monday.

    Source: USA Today


    VA failing Mideast vets, lawsuit contends

    Troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are not getting proper medical and mental health care, the suit says, citing post-traumatic stress disorder as a particular problem.

    By Henry Weinstein, LA Times Writer

    July 23, 2007

    SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was accused today in a lawsuit of "shameful failures" in providing medical and mental health care to injured servicemen returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    According to a 73-page lawsuit, which is proposed for class-action status on behalf of hundreds of thousands of veterans, "The VA's outmoded systems for providing medical care and disability benefits" have been overwhelmed by "the huge influx of injured troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan."

    In particular, attorneys for the plaintiffs say the VA is "structurally unsuitable" for dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, which the lawsuit calls "a signature problem of veterans" of the current ongoing wars. Symptoms of the disorder, the suit says, include intense anxiety, persistent nightmares, depression, uncontrollable anger, and difficulties coping with work, family and social relationships.
    About 1.6 million men and women have served in the two countries. A recent report by a special Pentagon Task Force found that 38% of soldiers and 50% of National Guard members coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan have mental health issues, ranging from PTSD to brain injuries.

    Only 27 of the VA's 1,400 hospitals around the country have inpatient PTSD programs, the plaintiffs' lawyers said.

    "A number of veterans have committed suicide shortly after having been turned away from VA facilities either because they were told they were ineligible or because the wait was too long," the lawsuit states.

    The case was filed as a proposed class action on behalf of hundreds of thousands of veterans. The named plaintiffs are two veterans advocacy groups, Veterans for Common Sense, based in Washington, D.C., and Veterans United for Truth, based in Santa Barbara. The defendants include outgoing VA chief R. James Nicholson, several other ranking VA officials and Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales.

    The lawsuit, prepared by half a dozen lawyers led by Melissa Kasnitz of Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, and Gordon Erspamer of Morrison & Foerster, a large San Francisco law firm, does not seek monetary damages. Rather, it is designed to stop the VA from systematically denying what it asserts are valid claims filed by injured veterans.

    Veterans' entitlement to benefits under U.S. law are being violated wholesale by the VA, according to the lawsuit. In addition, the plaintiffs' lawyers assert that the procedures the VA uses to handle claims and appeals of denied claims violate the veterans' constitutional rights to due process of law under the 5th Amendment and their right to petition for redress, guaranteed by the First Amendment.

    Moreover, the suit contends that the VA "has consistently presented misleading statistics", falsely understating the length of time it takes to decide a claim, the number of veterans who need mental health services and the amount of money the agency needs to meet its obligations to veterans.

    "Because of those failures, hundreds of thousands of men and women who have suffered grievous injuries fighting in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being abandoned," the complaint states.

    "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,' " attorney Kasnitz said. "The VA is not living up to its motto or its obligation to care for our disabled veterans."

    Her co-counsel Sidney Wolinsky said the suit was unprecedented in its scope, seeking to dramatically transform the way the VA operates. The agency's system for deciding claims filed by injured veterans has "largely collapsed" and is currently mired in a backlog of 600,000 claims, many of which have pending for years, the suit asserts.

    "At a time when troops remain in harm's way in both Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans have ... been exposed to a systemwide pattern of abusive and illegal administrative processes," the suit says, warning that "unless systematic and drastic measures are instituted immediately, the costs to these veterans, their families, and our nation will be incalculable, including broken families, a new generation of unemployed and homeless veterans, increases in drug abuse and alcoholism, and crushing burdens on the health care delivery system and other social services in our communities."

    Source: LA, CA Times
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