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VA Class Action: Relief for Veterans Waiting For Lengthy Disability Appeals

VA Class Action Lawsuit

After ruling last year that “appropriate” class action lawsuits against the Veterans Administration would be permitted, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) handed down a decision last week allowing the first such case to move ahead, stating that “the time has come for judicial intervention.”

The case, Godsey v. Wilkie (the Secretary of Veterans Affairs), was originally filed in 2017 on behalf of four veterans, James Godsey Jr., Thomas Marshall, Pamela Whitfield, and Jeffery Henke, seeking relief from extremely long waiting periods for their disability certification on their benefits appeals claims. However, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the case should be broadened in order to include other veterans waiting for their benefits.

Of course, this landmark decision could affect scores of veterans. In oral arguments last year, VA officials admitted that there were well over 2,000 veterans that had been awaiting certification for more than 24 months. In the 2-1 decision last week, the court mandated that the class action lawsuit can only include veterans that have been waiting longer than 18 months, stating that such waits are “per se unreasonable” and “deprive (veterans) of their constitutional right to due process.”

The court order demanded that the VA review all appeals from veterans that have been waiting at least 18 months, with a progress report to the court no later than August 12 and a full report by October 11. In the decision, the court wrote that they were not “content to wait for the Secretary to remedy these unreasonable delays on his own” and that he’d had “many years to act and initiate pre-certification review of class members’ cases,” but that the Secretary had failed to do so.

They went on to cite one of the original complainants’ encounters, Ms. Whitfield, pointing out that she has had to wait “over six years for the Secretary to act on her Substantive Appeal based on no fault of her own.”

While this decision may not have an immediate effect on wait times or mean that positive changes are imminent, it does provide an avenue for veterans’ to band together to have their complaints heard, put pressure on the VA, and possibly win legal relief. Additionally, many legal experts indicate that this could pave the way for similar cases against the VA.

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