Individual Representation for CAVC work Another pathway we have used to remedy systemic government wrongdoing is through an individual lawsuit challenging the denial of a veteran’s particular benefits claim. NVLSP files more than 600 individual appeals each year in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ( CAVC ) on behalf of a veteran or survivor denied benefits by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals ( BVA ). Some of these denials are due to a systemic practice of dubious legality. For example, we noticed that the BVA based its denial of disability benefits to one of NVLSP ’s clients on the fact that even though the veteran had suffered from the claimed disability for years after the claim was filed, the disability had resolved itself by the time—many years later — the BVA decided the veteran’s appeal. Because we knew the BVA often used this rationale to deny claims pending for many years, we asked the court to issue a precedential decision outlawing this practice.The court agreed, ruling that for any of our nation’s veterans to be eligible for disability benefits, the veteran need only suffer from the claimed disability during some part of the multi-year period between the date the claim was filed and the date the VA was ready to issue a final decision on the claim. A major development should expand NVLSP ’s ability to challenge systemic government wrongdoing. In 1991, the newly created CAVC denied NVLSP ’s petition that it adopt class action rules on the grounds that Congress had not provided it with authority to decide class actions. Twenty-five years later, in 2016, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that the CAVC ’s long-standing position was wrong; it has class action authority. NVLSP wasted no time in leveraging this important ruling by filing three different class actions challenging systemic VA rules and practices that violate the promise the government has made to disabled veterans.
of desperately needed benefits to Vietnam war veterans who fought for their country and suffered grievous injury as a result of our government’s own conduct. … Those young Americans who risked their lives in their country’s service…are deserving of better treatment from the [VA] than they are currently receiving. We would hope that…our government will now respect the legal obligations it undertook in the Consent Decree some 16 years ago, that obstructionist bureaucratic opposition will now cease, and that our veterans will finally receive the benefits to which they are morally and legally entitled.
As a direct result of this ruling, the VA has since paid more than $4.6 billion in retroactive benefits to more than 100,000 veterans and their survivors. But the VA ’s “obstructionist bureaucratic opposition” did not end with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. Over the last 11 years, NVLSP has caught the VA violating the consent decree in many additional ways, forcing the VA to pay 4,000 veterans and their survivors a total of $97 million in additional retroactive benefits. In other cases, NVLSP ’s litigation victories have involved a challenge to the legality of a VA or military department rule that adversely affects veterans seeking benefits. NVLSP ’s most important successes in both class actions and challenges to government rules are chronicled in the Timeline of Achievement section of this report.
Empowering Through Education From the very beginning, one of NVLSP ’s core goals has been to equip attorneys and advocates to help America’s veterans secure their benefits. We continue to act as a force multiplier through in-person and webinar trainings, as well as the annually updated and published Veterans Benefits Manual.
“We hope our government will now respect [its] legal obligations [and] that obstructionist bureaucratic opposition will now cease, and our veterans will finally receive the benefits to which they are morally and legally entitled.” —U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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