Another lawsuit has been filed in federal court against the VA by veterans’ organization and public advocacy group, this time claiming the agency has kept some veterans waiting longer than two years for records needed to apply for benefits. The complaint asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to find that the VA has unreasonably delayed providing the records and to order the agency to produce them within 20 days.
Some of the seven veterans named in the lawsuit have been waiting 25 months for records that should have been turned over to them within 20 days. If the agency cannot meet its 20-day delivery time for the records, they are obligated to contact the veteran and specify when the records will be provided. If the VA denies releasing copies of veterans’ files, they are supposed to issue an explanation to the veteran as to why they are denying the request for records.
The requested records typically detail veterans’ periods of services, circumstances of their separation, letters from the VA regarding decisions to deny or grant benefits, explanations for any rating already granted, service medical records, and personnel files. Defined by the VA, this is the veteran’s C File, or Claims File. This will typically be the strongest piece of evidence in the final outcome of a disability claim.
Five of the seven veterans named in the lawsuit requested their records in order to apply for Combat-Related Special Compensation, a program that gives military retirees a monthly compensation that replaces their VA disability offset. In essence, qualified veterans with 20 or more years of service that have “combat related” VA-rated disability will no longer have their military retirement pay reduced by the amount of the VA disability compensation. In lieu of this, they will receive both their full military retirement pay and their VA disability compensation.
This most recent lawsuit over the records request delay comes as the VA continues to face down its historical backlog of disability claims. That backlog was more than 600,000 in 2013 but now is below 200,000, according to the VA. VA Secretary Bob McDonald said the agency is on track to end the backlog by the end of 2015. Skeptical veterans groups believe they hope to do that, in part, by slowing the rate of new claims applications by requiring new claims be filed on standard forms. In a previous blog, I touched on these changes, and how they could arbitrarily affect veterans with severe brain injuries and older veterans.
With all the turmoil in the form of lawsuits against the VA, it is no wonder that so many veterans stay frustrated and impatient. We hear it all the time, the level of aggravation veteran’s face. In the end, all they are trying to accomplish is getting benefits they deserve, and most certainly have earned in their service to our country.