Does filing a lawsuit against the government affect other benefits that veterans or their families may receive? That’s a common question asked by many military personnel. The answer is no.
Claims against the Veterans’ Administration fall under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), and only a handful of attorneys focus their practices in this area of law. It is important to know who can bring a claim against the VA and understanding how it differs from claims in the private sector, and every military employee and their families should be aware.
When a veteran is injured by a VA doctor or other employee of VA, he/she has two legal remedies available, either file a claim with the VA for disability compensation and/or seek monetary damages under the FTCA. Any veteran can file a Federal Tort Claim against the VA, or, if required, file a lawsuit in order to seek compensation for an injury caused by medical negligence. There are cases where an injury causes the death of a veteran, and in these circumstances, any family member, or in certain cases, even a friend, would be allowed to proceed on behalf of the deceased veteran.
Unlike service disability claims which are filed with a VARO (VA Regional Office), tort claims are filed with the VARC (VA Regional Counsel) responsible for the region where the veteran’s injury took place, and unlike the VA rating system for service-connected disabilities, money damages under the FTCA are not based on an evaluation of how a veteran’s disability impacts their ability to earn a living, but rather, on their suffering and the economic loss resulting from the injury. Differing from disability compensation, which is paid monthly over a number of years, a veteran receives one lump sum upon the success of an FTCA lawsuit, and service-connected disability pension payments are not affected by bringing a federal tort claim. There can be circumstances under which benefits other than disability pensions will be offset against a recovery in the setting of the FTCA. An example of this is when a veteran is the victim of a medical mistake on the part of VA healthcare providers, and he/she applies for non-service connected pension. If granted, that application can result in a monthly compensation payment.
For the veteran, it usually boils down to a decision of whether to accept payment from the VA in increments, which can be revised or cancelled at any time, or accepting a lump-sum payment. It is best for any veteran or survivor interested in pursuing a tort claim for medical negligence to discuss their specific benefit situation with their attorney at the very outset of the process.