SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Veterans with disabilities not caused or diagnosed during combat suffer unnecessary delays and premature denials of claims, expert witness James Abrams said Monday as testimony began in Veterans for Common Sense’s class-action challenge of the Veteran Administration’s claims-processing procedures.
Abrams, co-director of the National Veterans Legal Service Program, said veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who cannot show a specific combat-related trigger for their disability suffer undue delays and premature denials of claims due to “obdurate adjudicators” at VA regional offices. These “bureaucrats” violate the VA’s own regulations by denying claims solely because they “find no event that causes a disability,” Abrams said.
The Veterans Administration usually grants claims to veterans who can show that their PTSD is caused by combat, and confirms their involvement through service records or medals received. However, many veterans say that the events triggering their PTSD started some other time or place, because some do not want to admit being scared while in combat, Abrams said.
Occasionally the trigger is not combat-related but service-related. Abrams theorized that a veteran who started suffering from PTSD after watching another man blow himself up in a bar in Saigon would have his claim denied because the event was not combat-related, even if the disabled veteran was serving his country at the time.
In contrast to private claims adjudication procedures, the VA is supposed to be non-adversarial, granting appropriate benefits while protecting the interest of the federal government, but plaintiffs say the system is failing in its mission.
Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for United Truth filed the class action last July against the VA, Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake and other governmental entities, alleging they failed to meet “our nation’s legal and moral obligations to honor and care for our wounded veterans who have served our country.”
Plaintiffs say the failures include a backlog of more than 600,000 claims, so that it can take 10 years for a claim to be fully decided; a nearly 100 percent increase in the number of claims denied in just two years; and lack of staff to deal with the mental and physical problems of troops returning from battle.
Peake was appointed head of the VA on Oct. 30, 2007.