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Thousands of Veterans and Caregivers Seeking Caregiver Program Assistance Gain Access to Just Appeals Process

For Immediate Release: April 20, 2021

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

 

THOUSANDS OF VETERANS AND CAREGIVERS SEEKING CAREGIVER PROGRAM ASSISTANCE GAIN ACCESS TO JUST APPEALS PROCESS

Landmark class-action ruling ensures that veterans and their caregivers are given a meaningful chance to access critical benefits

WASHINGTON, D.C. — April 20, 2021In a major victory for veterans and their caregivers seeking benefits under the Veterans Affairs (VA) caregiver program, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled that claimants can now appeal decisions under the caregiver program to the Board of Veterans' Appeals and may obtain subsequent judicial review. Not only did the Court grant prospective relief in the form of an injunction requiring VA to permit such appeals going forward, but the Court also certified a class of claimants who were denied the right to pursue such appeals to ensure they are notified of their appeal rights. This decision in a class action lawsuit filed by Public Counsel’s Center for Veterans’ Advancement and Paul Hastings LLP means thousands of past veterans and caregivers, going back over a decade, are now eligible to get Board review of their claims, requiring determinations to be substantiated and justified, with the potential to recover retroactive benefits.

“It is hard to overstate the significance of this ruling and the hurdles it took to secure it,” says Paul Hastings attorney and Navy veteran Andy LeGolvan. “The VA’s decision to deny appeal rights for Caregiver Program claimants not only prevented veterans and caregivers from obtaining their benefits, but it also hindered any claimant from challenging VA’s policy of prohibiting such appeals. The Veterans Court has now decisively determined that VA had the law wrong for nearly a decade—and, critically, found that VA now bears responsibility for rectifying its unlawful policy. We look forward to working with VA to enforce the Court’s order to ensure all members of the class are properly notified of their restored appeal rights.”

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. Since its inception, there have been 400,000 caregiver applications submitted, but less than 20,000 veterans enrolled in the program as of 2019. According to the Veterans Administration's own data, nearly 20,000 veterans have been revoked from the Caregiver program since its inception.

Paul Hastings attorney Randall Johnston sums up the vital role of caregivers. “This past year has taught us how critically important caregivers are not only to veterans, but our broader communities. Too often the work of caregivers is overlooked, unpaid and undervalued. Congress recognized this and provided a means to compensate and provide some benefits to the caregivers of our veterans. But regulatory rules enabled the VA to unjustly deny these benefits without providing any recourse. Now, these veterans and their caregivers finally have a means to appeal caregiver benefit denials.”

“This decision will allow veterans and caregivers to finally voice the inconsistencies and errors they have experienced with the Caregiver Program,” says Public Counsel Supervising Staff Attorney Amanda Pertusati. "Veterans and caregivers will no longer feel helpless and hopeless, having to navigate within a framework that repeatedly insulates inaccuracies without proper due process. We look forward to guiding the VA on the best practices to preserve appellate rights, as well as fiercely advocate for veterans and caregivers of both the PCAFC and MISSION Act.”

 

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Read the decision HERE.

Read the original filing press release HERE.

Read the petition HERE.