Two more veterans organizations are going to court against the Veterans Affairs Department over the agency's decision to end its historic informal claims process.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans say that a new claims system the VA adopted in March "severely undercuts the non-adversarial, pro-veteran principles upon which the veterans' benefits system was built. In particular, the VA alters decades-long pro-veterans practices under the guise of creating efficiencies within the VA."
The efficiencies include the use of standardized forms that veterans would have to download, fill out and file.
"The VFW doesn't oppose the use of standardized forms," VFW National Veterans Service Director William L. Bradshaw said. "Our opposition is to this all or nothing approach that VA is forcing on veterans -- changes, that if left in place, will guarantee in this year alone that tens of thousands of service-connected wounded, ill and injured veterans will be denied benefits they were entitled to before the change became effective."
The VFW and DAV are only the latest veterans' advocates to sue the VA over the new system.
Attorney Douglas J. Rosinski of Veterans Justice Group in Columbia, South Carolina, also filed a suit challenging the new system last November.
Veterans groups, including the VFW and DAV, told the VA two years ago that any new system that eliminated the informal claims process would be opposed.
Historically, any form of written communication to the VA by a veteran served notice that the veteran would be filing a formal claim for disability compensation within a year. If approved, the claim's effective date could be backdated to the day of the initial notification.
Since implementing its new system on March 24, the VA no longer accepts informal claims, and instead requires all veterans to use a standardized form, which the veterans' organizations and supporters say essentially postpones the effective date and denies compensation to veterans.
The VA says that veterans may still reserve an effective date prior to filing via a standard "Intent to File" form. Once filed, the date would be reserved for one year while the veteran puts together all information needed to submit the claim for a decision.
Bradshaw said the VA's new system makes it easier for the department, "not for the veterans the VA was created to serve."
Veterans' groups have argued that older veterans may not have ready access to computers to download the forms, and filling out the information in the small spaces on the forms might also be a problem.
This also includes veterans who do not understand the process and are unable to avail themselves of the expert and free claims assistance provided by the VSOs or VA-accredited service officers, he said.
"The VA's move to a standardized form should not come at the cost of an informal claims notification procedure that works," he said. "The VA can and should accept both."
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.