New court ruling could give thousands of Vietnamese veterans and survivors overdue disability awards


A recent court order could grant up to 15,000 Vietnamese veterans who have been denied disability benefits an average of $ 28,000 in backdated payments, but federal officials could still try to appeal the ruling in those cases. weeks to come.

Earlier this month, the United States District Court for Northern California ruled in favor of thousands of “Blue water” navy veterans and their survivors who accused them are being wrongly denied benefits under a deal reached by Congress last year.

Under this plan, the Department of Veterans Affairs was required to grant deemed benefit status for exposure to chemical defoliants to veterans who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam during that war. For years, lawyers had lamented that VA requires direct evidence of exposure difficult to obtain decades after veterans tours aboard ships.

Since the start of the year, VA has been processing these claims, granting new benefits to more than 24,000 veterans and survivors in early October.

But the new law did not automatically require VA officials to go back and review refused cases before 2020. Veterans who re-applied for benefits may have their cases reviewed, but National Veterans officials Legal Services Program argued that all cases should be redone. and reviewed by the VA benefits offices.

“These veterans and their surviving family members have been waiting for years for the benefits to which they are entitled,” Bart Stichman, executive director of NVLSP, said in a statement.

In an interview with Military Times last week, Under Secretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence said no decision had been made by VA and Justice Department officials on appeal.

However, he noted that the lawsuit was discussed as part of VA’s preparations for the new benefit treatment earlier this year. If the decision stands, whether on a new appeal or if the government simply chooses to accept the final decision, Lawrence said he was confident the department can begin reviewing these cases without any significant disruption to the courts. operations.

“We did some of the backstage processing, file markup and things like that,” he said. “So if this becomes the law of the land, there will be work on the ground, but it won’t be something we hadn’t thought of before. “

VA has already paid about $ 700 million in retroactive benefits related to “blue water” veterans benefits this year. NVLSP officials estimate the new group could add more than $ 400 million in additional payments.

For more information on the trial, visit NVLSP website.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on policies relating to military personnel and veterans. His work has earned him numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.


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