WASHINGTON – Veterans organizations scored a victory today for Vietnam veterans suffering from diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure.
In a court order issued this morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit instructed the VA to issue within 30 days new rules for paying disability benefits to Vietnam veterans stricken with ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, or B-cell leukemias.
The successful request for a writ of mandamus was filed in July 2010 by a coalition of veterans service organizations: the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Non Commissioned Officers Association, and United Spinal Association/VetsFirst. The organizations received pro-bono legal help from Chadbourne & Parke LLP.
The VA claimed it could not issue the rules by the June 23rd deadline set by an act of Congress, because it was waiting for another federal agency (the Office of Management and Budget) to review them.
The unanimous three-judge panel disagreed and said VA must publish final rules on the three diseases in the Federal Register within 30 days. The rules impact an estimated 200,000 Vietnam veterans or their survivors who suffer from one of the three Agent Orange-related diseases.
“We filed this request because veterans who have given so much for our country, should not have their compensation claims delayed because two federal agencies can’t get their act together and comply with the law,” said Bart Stichman, co-executive director of NVLSP. “Today’s court order is a victory for our Vietnam veterans, and sends a strong message to federal bureaucrats – that bureaucratic delays will not be tolerated.”
For many veterans and survivors, the date that VA rules are published has an impact on the amount of financial benefits they will receive. If a Vietnam veteran or survivor files a claim before VA publishes the rules on the three diseases, they are eligible for benefits retroactive to the date the claim is filed – even though VA publishes the rule after the claim is filed. But VA estimates that as many as 150,000 Vietnam veterans and survivors will not file their paperwork until after the rules are published. The date of publication is important to these veterans and survivors because by law, they cannot receive retroactive benefits for any period prior to the date of publication. Thus, for every month that publication is delayed, these veterans and survivors lose a month of retroactive benefits. As a result, late publication of a rule can result in veterans losing millions of dollars in benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled.
For months, NVLSP and other veterans service organizations have advisedveterans suffering from one of the three diseases to file a claim immediately. But the publication of rules in 30 days will likely result in a flood of additional VA claims.
For months, NVLSP and other veterans service organizations have advised veterans suffering from one of the three diseases to file a claim immediately. But the publication of rules in 30 days will likely result in a flood of additional VA claims.