Progress for Veterans as Federal Court Shifts Burden to VA, CAVC
On April 26, 2017, United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the Court) issued a decision in Monk v. Shulkin, holding that the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) has “the authority to establish a class action mechanism or other method of aggregating claims.”
This Court decision could have a massive impact on how Veterans’ claims are handled and could provide a boost of efficiency, which is much needed in the Veterans Benefits Administration (VA). The Court’s decision notes that the Secretary of the Veterans Administration (Secretary) agreed that the CAVC has the authority to certify a class for a class action or similar aggregate resolution procedure.
The Court found that the CAVC’s jurisdiction extends to “compel action of the Secretary unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed,” and that the CAVC’s jurisdiction for certifying class actions would serve this end.
“I see unreasonable delay in Veteran’s disability claims every day in our practice. Especially regarding claims for Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP), adding of dependent spouses and children, remanded claims from the Board of Veterans Appeals, and claims involving Veterans of advanced age,” said Colin Kemmerly, Managing Partner of Gardberg and Kemmerly, in reaction to the new Court decision.
Mr. Kemmerly went on to say, “[t]he VA constantly puts the burden on the Veteran during the disability benefits appeals process while the VA has born none of the burden. This latest decision is a step in the right direction to hold the VA accountable and bear some of the burden themselves.”
The Court, in their decision, stated that they believe this will allow the CAVC to promote efficiency, consistency, and fairness, and improving access to legal and expert assistance by parties with limited resources. These goals would be achieved by handling hundreds, if not thousands, of cases with similar facts at the same time, rather than on a case by case basis. Further, a class action rule would permit the Veterans Court to correct errors, while also reducing the delays associated with individual appeals.
However, Mr. Kemmerly believes that there is an easier solution to fix unreasonable delay at the VA. “If the VA were to institute time limits on the processing of claims, as they do to the Veterans when it comes to submitting appeals, I think that we would see a significant benefit in wait times for rulings on disability claims. Instituting time limits would also cut down on the number of class actions the CAVC may have to hear and eliminate the costs of such a large court case, which would give the VA the ability to allocate funds elsewhere for the efficient processing of disability claims.”
The rules and procedures for a CAVC class action or aggregate resolution mechanism are yet to be created, but our firm will keep a diligent eye on any changes to come in order to remain at the forefront of this very important development in Veterans’ law.
For any and all questions you may have regarding VA disability claims, please contact the experienced Veterans’ disability attorneys at Gardberg & Kemmerly, P.C. today for a free case evaluation. Gardberg & Kemmerly serves Veterans across the United States from their home office in Mobile, Alabama.