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Serota on Veterans Benefits

Posted in F1@1F Friends by Mike Sacks on November 11, 2010

As we honor our veterans’ service today, I would like to recommend Michael Serota’s column at AOL News today challenging the constitutionality of the severe delays many veterans face in receiving their disability benefits from the VA.

Because of the severe psychological and physical trauma that service members endure, many veterans are unable to earn a living or support themselves. As a result, nearly 1 million veterans file claims every year seeking disability benefits to compensate them for the reduction in quality of life and impaired earning capacity caused by an injury they suffered while serving the country. These benefits can be a financial lifeline, especially since such a high percentage of the injuries incurred on the battlefield are so debilitating. Indeed, for many veterans, disability benefits are the only thing protecting them from home foreclosures, bankruptcy or even homelessness.

The VA denies about 11 percent of the nearly 1 million benefits claims filed each year, forcing these veterans to enter the VA’s dreaded appellate system, often referred to as “the hamster wheel.” The average time a veteran must wait for a benefits claim to work its way to a decision from the VA’s appellate body, the Board of Veterans Appeals, is a mind boggling 4.4 years. Even then, a large portion of the board’s cases are remanded, forcing many veterans to begin the process all over again. [...]

Fed up with the injustice of these massive delays, two veterans organizations, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California in July 2007 alleging, among other things, that 4.4-year appellate delays are unconstitutional. Although the trial judge in that case made a factual finding that the average wait time for a veteran’s appeal was 1,601 days, he concluded that there was in fact no legal violation.

The case is currently pending before the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which can, and should, reverse the lower court and find that these delays violate the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, which ensures that nobody will be deprived of property without due process of law. Previous court cases have already established that veterans benefits are “property” and that veterans have a constitutionally protected property interest in receiving those benefits through fair procedures. The question that remains is whether a 4.4-year delay constitutes due process.

Read the whole column here.

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