Veterans Class Action Lawsuit Seeks Relief for Hardships from Delayed VA Appeals
Mr. Conley Monk, Jr., by counsel at the Yale University Veterans Law Clinic, filed a complaint in the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) on behalf of thousands of veterans whose initial appeals languish in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) backlog. He is seeking a CAVC order that would compel VA to decide thousands of delayed appeals. At the moment, over 250,000 appeals are pending adjudication in VA’s system. While veterans wait for review of an initial decision, many face financial trouble, medical hardship, and struggle with the ravages of aging.
It’s frustrating to be stuck in limbo. It has been nearly 2 years since I began my initial appeal by filing a Notice of Disagreement and electing a Decision Review Officer hearing in July 2013, and VA still has not decided my case,
said Mr. Monk, a combat veteran who served in the Vietnam War.
We argue for such orders from the CAVC on a regular basis for individual veterans. Filing a Petition for Extraordinary Relief (the legal instrument to secure such an order) for individual veterans is a routine service our veterans disability advocates provide for clients. Our petitions allege that egregious delays in individual cases support CAVC involvement in VA operations. To convince the CAVC, a veteran must show that
- the petitioner lacks adequate alternative means for relief, thus ensuring that the writ does not substitute for the appeals process;
- the petitioner must demonstrate a clear and indisputable right to the writ; and
- the court must be convinced, given the circumstances, that the issuance of the writ is warranted. In effect, the delay must be so long that it amounts to an arbitrary denial of the appeal.
All of our advocates file such petitions regularly for clients.
Mr. Monk’s complaint, however, is very different. He is asking the CAVC to certify a class of similarly situated veterans so that an order would apply to thousands of veterans’ appeals at once. Although the CAVC has recognized its power to decide a class action suit, the CAVC has never done so since its founding in 1988 under the Veterans Judicial Review Act. In our experience, some judges are very reluctant to intervene in the normal course of VA operations. Some judges are less apprehensive. While understandable thinking supports both positions, we favor a more active approach to judicial involvement in the veterans affairs system. So, this case may generate an interesting discussion within the CAVC and produce opinions worth careful reading.
We will continue to file Petitions for Extraordinary Relief for our individual clients, and we look forward to watching Mr. Monk’s litigation. If your veterans disability appeal has been delayed and you need assistance, don’t hesitate to call us at (855) 855-8992 or complete our free online evaluation form.