SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Ruling in the Veterans for Common Sense v. Veterans’ Administration class action, a federal judge said the relief that veterans groups sought to address delays in processing health claims processing is outside the jurisdiction of district courts. U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti found the veterans groups’ grievances, while actual and problematic, were “misdirected,” as the authority to act on them lies with Congress and the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs – not with the district court.
“Congress has specifically precluded district courts from reviewing veterans’ benefits decisions and has entrusted decisions regarding veterans’ medical care to the discretion of the VA secretary,” Conti wrote.
Conti wrote that he found “no systemic violations system-wide that would compel district court intervention.” For these reasons, he denied the plaintiffs’ request for a permanent injunction.
Veterans wanted Conti to appoint a Special Master to help the parties develop a plan to implement and monitor claims processing, to shorten the time veterans must wait to process claims.
Conti found significant delays in the adjudication process showing that, on average, veterans had to wait 261 days for a claim to be decided. He found that individual members did suffer under the current system and that the relief sought by the plaintiffs would probably ameliorate their injuries.
However, Conti noted, “Nowhere has Congress given this court either the authority or the responsibility to supervise or oversee the ongoing adjudication process which results in a BVA (Bureau of Veterans’ Affairs) decision.”
Conti indicate that individual veterans who have suffered due to delays or wrongful denials of claims would have standing to sue the VA.
In his ruling, Conti recognized the binding power of the Administrative Procedure Act and other statutes that severely limited his power.
He wrote, “The remedies sought by plaintiffs are beyond the power of this court and would call for a complete overhaul of the VA system, something clearly outside of this court’s jurisdiction.”
The class action, filed in July 2007 by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, claimed the VA failed to meet “our nation’s legal and moral obligations to honor and care for our wounded veterans who have served our country.”
Plaintiffs cited a backlog of more than 600,000 claims, forcing some veterans to wait up to 10 years for a claim to be fully decided. Morrison & Foerster represented the plaintiffs pro bono in the bench trial.