December 16, 2008 – A hearing begins Wednesday in a lawsuit aimed at cutting the time that the Department of Veterans Affairs takes to process disability claims to no more than 90 days.
Vietnam Veterans of America and Veterans of Modern Warfare filed the lawsuit against VA after learning the department took as long as a year to come up with disability benefits decisions, and as long as four years to rule on appeals of those decisions. The average time for an initial decision is about six months.
VA has a benefits claims backlog of more than 400,000 cases.
Rita Reese, principal deputy assistant VA secretary for management, told Congress in January that the department would increase the number of fulltime case workers from 14,857 to 15,570, with a goal of reducing the disability claims backlog to 298,000 by the end of fiscal 2009, which would be a drop of 24 percent.
The lawsuit asks for monetary relief for veterans if VA can’t reduce its processing time.
“Delayed disability benefit awards create an additional and, in many cases, unmanageable stress for an already suffering population,” VVA and VMW officials said in a joint press release. “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, and every night, more than 150,000 American veterans are homeless.”
They blamed those problems in part on benefit delays that could cause people who are unable to work to lose their homes, jobs and families.
The two organizations also are sponsoring a rally at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where the lawsuit was filed. They said veterans from across the country will gather at the courthouse to show support.