Delays in disabled pay, health care prompt class-action lawsuit.
|By Hope Yen - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Jul 24, 2007 5:21:55 EDT
WASHINGTON — Frustrated by delays in health care, a coalition of injured Iraq
war veterans is accusing the Department of Veterans Affairs of breaking the law
by denying them disability pay and mental health treatment.
The class-action lawsuit, filed Monday in Federal court in San Francisco, seeks
broad changes in the agency as it struggles to meet growing demands from
veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Suing on behalf of hundreds of thousands of veterans, it charges that the VA has
failed servicemen and women on numerous fronts. It contends the VA failed to
provide prompt disability benefits, failed to add staff to reduce wait times for
medical care and failed to boost services for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The lawsuit also accuses the VA of deliberately cheating some veterans by
allegedly working with the Pentagon to misclassify PTSD claims as pre-existing
personality disorders to avoid paying benefits. The VA and Pentagon have
generally denied such charges.
“When one of our combat veterans walks into a VA hospital, then they must see a
doctor that day,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common
Sense, which filed the lawsuit. “When a war veteran needs disability benefits
because he or she can’t work, then they must get a disability check in a few
“The VA has betrayed our veterans,” Sullivan said.
Virginia spokesman Matt Smith said Monday he could not comment on a pending
The lawsuit comes amid intense political and public scrutiny of the VA and
Pentagon following reports of shoddy outpatient care of injured soldiers at
Walter Reed Army Medical Center and elsewhere.
The complaint seeks to represent between 320,000 and 800,000 veterans of the
Iraq war who lawyers say are at risk of having PTSD. Ultimately, a federal judge
will have to decide whether the lawsuit is properly deemed a class action that
adequately represents them.
As of March 31, roughly 52,375 Iraq veterans were evaluated at VA facilities for
suspected PTSD, according to an internal quarterly VA report released Monday to
The Associated Press.
“Unless systemic 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,” the complaint says.
It asks that a federal court order the VA to make immediate improvements.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in San Francisco issued a strong
rebuke of the VA in ordering the agency to pay retroactive benefits to Vietnam
War veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and contracted a form of leukemia.
“The performance of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has
contributed substantially to our sense of national shame,” the opinion from the
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals read.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff veterans note that government investigators warned
as early as 2002 that the VA needed to fix its backlogged claims system and make
Yet, the lawsuit says, the department still insisted on a budget in 2005 that
fell $1 billion short, and they made “a mockery of the rule of law” by awarding
senior officials $3.8 million in bonuses despite their role in the budget
Today, the VA’s backlog of disability payments is between 400,000 and 600,000,
with delays of up to 177 days to process an initial claim and an average of 657
days to process an appeal.
The lawsuit cites violations of the Constitution and federal law, which mandates
at least two years of health care to injured veterans.
The veterans groups involved in the lawsuit are Veterans for Common Sense in
Washington, D.C., which claims 11,500 members, and Veterans United for Truth,
based in Santa Barbara, California, with 500 members.