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Historic Lawsuit Challenges Unacceptable Delays in Delivering Benefits to America's Veterans by Department of Veterans Affairs
Date:11/10/2008

Vietnam Veterans Of America & Veterans Of Modern Warfare Fight For Faster Benefit Decisions And Interim Benefits 'Lifeline'

WASHINGTON, Nov. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, two groups representing thousands of American veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and Veterans of Modern Warfare (VMW), announced that they have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to end the unconscionable delays experienced by veterans when applying for disability benefits. VVA and VMW seek immediate action to prevent further irreparable harm to our nation's veterans.

The lawsuit demands that the VA provide an initial decision on every veteran's claim for disability benefits within 90 days and resolve appeals within 180 days. Additionally, the veterans groups ask that the Court grant further relief in the form of interim benefits awards in the event that the VA exceeds these minimum standards of constitutionally-guaranteed due process. These interim benefits will provide veterans with a lifeline of support when it is most needed to facilitate reintegration into their lives back home.

"The failure to expedite veterans' compensation claims creates, at best, the impression that the nation does not respect its veterans," said John Rowan, National President, Vietnam Veterans of America. "America's veterans deserve more, and the VA's failure to fulfill its responsibilities brings dishonor to our nation and can only make the call of military service more challenging."

The VA acknowledges that it takes an average of at least six months to reach an initial decision on an average benefits claim; the actual delay is closer to a year. Appeals of these initial decisions, which are reversed more than 50 percent of the time, take, on average, more than four years, with some stretching 10 years or more. In contrast, private healthcare plans - which process more than 30 billion claims a year - process claims and related appeals in less than three months.

"As a matter of both policy and practice, the VA subjects veterans to long delays before receiving any of the benefits to which they are entitled," said Donald Overton, Executive Director, Veterans of Modern Warfare. "Our hope is that this lawsuit will compel the VA to process veterans' benefits claims more quickly and honor our nation's commitment to those that have defended and served."

"All veterans will benefit significantly from the legal action of VVA and VMW," said Robert Cattanach, Partner, Dorsey & Whitney. "The intervention of VVA and VMW is necessary because under federal law individual veterans are not allowed to access the judicial system. Dorsey & Whitney is committed to helping America's veterans quickly secure the benefits they have earned from the VA."

There are approximately 25 million veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces alive today. More than 7 million of those veterans are enrolled in the VA's healthcare system, and approximately 3.4 million veterans receive benefits. More than 600,000 VA benefits claims are backlogged - this number will only increase as the 1.7 million troops that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to return home.

"A soldier's transition to civilian life is challenging. The VA's failure to diagnose PTSD promptly and accurately, and the corresponding delay in the award of benefits, plainly results in veterans being denied this critical lifeline," said Dr. Charles R. Figley, PTSD expert and author, of Tulane University. "VVA and VMW's lawsuit will help to reduce this additional and, in many cases, unmanageable stress for veterans."

According to the VA, the suicide rate among individuals in the VA's care may be as high as 7.5 times the national average. Delays in awarding benefits to America's veterans increases the suffering of individuals already struggling with an inability to cope, as the seemingly endless wait for the VA to make a final decision on a claim magnifies the alienation and anxiety that they experience. For example, the inability to provide basic subsistence support significantly impacts a veteran's ability to maintain economic stability, seek and gain employment, provide and sustain a home, or care for a family. As a consequence, there is a substantial increase in the number of broken families, cases of homelessness and depression caused by the failure to provide disability benefits on a timely basis.

Vietnam Veterans of America

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is the nation's only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans families, as well as to the needs of other veterans and their families. VVA's founding principle is "Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another." Visit the VVA online at http://www.vva.org/.

Veterans of Modern Warfare

Veterans of Modern Warfare (VMW) is a veterans service organization dedicated to serving our nation's most recent war veterans. Our purpose is to support veterans and their families by providing education and information about the benefits America's veterans have earned, assistance in obtaining benefits, advocacy in issues important to our generation, and camaraderie through locally based, national chapters. Visit the VMW online at http://www.vmwusa.org.

Dorsey & Whitney LLP

Clients have relied on Dorsey & Whitney (http://www.dorsey.com) since 1912 to protect their interests. With 650 lawyers in 18 locations in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia, Dorsey provides a comprehensive approach to its clients' legal and business needs. Dorsey represents a number of the world's most successful Fortune 500 companies.

Dorsey and its individual lawyers have a long history of public service. The firm dedicates substantial resources, on a pro bono basis, to serve the unmet legal needs of disadvantaged individuals and of organizations who cannot afford to pay for legal services.


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SOURCE Vietnam Veterans of America; Veterans of Modern Warfare
Copyright©2008 PR Newswire.
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