Tuesday, September 29, 2009

VA Staffs Office for Survivors of Vets, Service Members

VA Press Release of interest to lawyers for our warrior community:
WASHINGTON (Sept. 28, 2009) -- To strengthen the programs of the
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the survivors of the nation's
Veterans and military personnel, the Department has staffed an office to
serve as their advocate, with a charter that includes creating or
modifying programs, benefits and services.

"Taking care of survivors is as essential as taking care of our Veterans
and military personnel," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki
said. "By taking care of survivors, we are honoring a commitment made to
our Veterans and military members."

The office serves as the primary advisor to the secretary on all issues
affecting the survivors and dependents of deceased Veterans and service
members. It will monitor VA's delivery of benefits to survivors, make
appropriate referrals to VA offices for survivors seeking benefits and
explore innovative ways of reaching survivors who are not receiving the
VA benefits for which they are eligible.

VA benefits for eligible survivors include educational assistance, home
loan guaranties, health care insurance and Dependency and Indemnity
Compensation, a monthly payment to the survivors of some people who die
on active duty and some seriously disabled Veterans.

More than 554,000 spouses, dependents and other survivors of Veterans
are receiving VA benefits. That figure includes nearly 5,000 spouses of
World War I Veterans, 90 spouses and 94 children of Spanish-American War
Veterans, and two children of Civil War Veterans.

The establishment of this office was authorized in the Veterans Benefits
Improvement Act
of 2008."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Federal appeals court to decide suit over wounded veterans

The LA Times reports:
"Court-ordered mediation has failed to settle a lawsuit over delayed and denied care for wounded veterans so the case now goes to a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel, the court reported Tuesday.
Two veterans groups brought suit in 2007, alleging systemic failures in the Department of Veterans Affairs' processing of disability claims. They noted that 3,000 veterans die each year while their appeals are pending, and 18 veterans commit suicide each day on average, many suspected to be acts of despair by those with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a push for an out-of-court settlement after an Aug. 12 hearing in the case, 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski suggested that lawyers for the veterans and the government "go and get a sandwich together." Kozinski said he saw goodwill on both sides to do right by those hurt while serving their country and ordered the parties to seek help from the court's mediation service.

More than a month later, the veterans' pro bono lawyer, Gordon Erspamer, and Department of Justice attorney Charles Scarborough reported to the court that they were "unable to reach any agreement to utilize mediation as a vehicle for resolving the appeal."

Kozinski indicated at the hearing that the court might find it difficult to compel the veterans agency to process claims faster. A district court judge who heard the veterans case last year declined to intervene, saying the claim denials and treatment delays were unjust but beyond the court's power to rectify. It was that decision that prompted Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth to appeal to the 9th Circuit.

The 9th Circuit panel, which includes Judges Proctor Hug Jr. and Stephen Reinhardt along with Kozinski, has no deadline for issuing a decision. Most appeals take at least a few months to be decided and complicated cases can remain under deliberation for more than a year."
By Carol J. Williams
September 16, 2009