Press Releases

July 15, 2020

A Veteran and His Caregiver File A Class Action Challenging The Appeals Process Under the VA Caregiver Program

For Immediate Release: July 15, 2020

Media Contact: Rekha Radhakrishnan, 832-628-2312 rradhakrishnan@publiccounsel.org

 

A VETERAN AND HIS CAREGIVER FILE A CLASS ACTION CHALLENGING THE APPEALS PROCESS UNDER THE VA CAREGIVER PROGRAM

Veterans and their caregivers are unable to obtain adequate support for military disability-related conditions

 WASHINGTON, D.C. — July 15, 2020 — Today, a veteran and his caregiver filed a class action lawsuit through a petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims arguing that the existing administrative appeals process of the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (Caregiver Program) leads to erroneous and inconsistent decisions, causing significant strain on their financial, medical, and mental health. Public Counsel and Paul Hastings are jointly representing the petitioners in this lawsuit.

The Caregiver Program was created in 2010, recognizing the vital role that family caregivers play in supporting the veterans in their family. The requirements include having a serious injury from active duty service on or after September 11, 2001, and requiring six months of continuous care. Benefits include health care and financial support for family members who provide care, recognizing that their services can be all-consuming, full-time work. 

While the Caregiver Program clearly provides a vital service to veterans, the VA Medical Center applies inconsistent rules and standards for the Caregiver Program across the country. Further, there are many reports, including by Congress and the national media, of arbitrary and wrongful termination of benefits for veterans who are unquestionably eligible for the Program. The VA’s own data shows that nearly 20,000 veterans have been revoked from the Program since its inception. Compounding this problem, according to the VA’s interpretation of the Caregiver statute, is that there is no avenue to appeal reductions or terminations of Caregiver benefits from the Program beyond the Veterans’ Health Administration appeals process. Therefore, there is no independent review process or judicial review for any decision made under the Caregiver Program.

 “Countless numbers of veterans have had their vital caregiver benefits denied or their existing caregiver supports ripped out from under them without any credible medical review or explanation for the VA’s decision,” says Public Counsel Supervising Attorney Amanda Pertusati.

 “Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The VA has been operating the Caregiver Program in the dark for nearly a decade without any meaningful appeals process, and so it should come as no surprise that the result is wrongful revocations, improper tier reductions, misapplication of the law, and arbitrary and inconsistent findings across the country,” says Paul Hastings Associate Attorney and Navy Veteran Andy LeGolvan. “Judicial review is the only meaningful remedy to fix these injustices. This is what the law requires and what our country’s heroes deserve.” Andy added, “Nearly every other VA benefits program is subject to judicial review, and these programs benefit greatly by the mere possibility that a panel of judges may be reviewing the record in the future to overturn erroneous and unlawful decisions.”

The consequences of this uneven application can be enormous. Family members have had to quit jobs to provide care without remuneration or support, and in at least one instance a veteran committed suicide after learning he didn’t qualify for the Program because he felt the VA wasn’t accurately diagnosing him as disabled.

The class action lawsuit seeks a determination that Caregiver decisions are permitted to be appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in accordance with the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act.

 

Read the petition here