In an ideal world, we shouldn’t need to exist.
There shouldn’t be much need for an organization dedicated to ensuring that our nation keeps its promise to care for those who served our country in the Armed Forces. There’s an established and generous disability benefit and health care system, as well as a uniquely pro-veteran process for deciding benefit claims, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and military departments successfully kept this promise to the millions of men and women who served in World War II.
But ever since the Vietnam War, the VA and the military have badly stumbled. Time and again, they have erected barriers that prevent our nation’s disabled veterans and their families from getting what they need and deserve.
That’s why we exist: to make sure that we as a nation live up to that promise.
Veterans have had to endure long waiting lists for VA medical treatment and a six-year backlog for deciding the 400,000 VA benefit claims that are pending on appeal.
For decades, the VA denied tens of thousands of disability claims from Vietnam veterans over the harmful effects of their exposure to Agent Orange, denying that this toxin caused anything other than a skin condition. Then, years later, when the VA was finally forced to recognize that Agent Orange caused numerous cancers and other diseases, the VA wrongly refused to make payments unless the veteran expressly used the magic words “Agent Orange” on the claim.
For decades, the military departments denied the existence of rampant military sexual trauma, resulting in broken lives and denial of the VA benefit claims the survivors filed for the mental disorders that resulted from their assaults and trauma.
For many years, the VA fought paying claims for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by requiring contemporaneous evidence corroborating the in-service stressors, which often didn’t exist. In other cases, VA adjudicators operated under the unwritten rule that if a veteran testifies to an in-service event that isn’t reflected in the military records, it didn’t happen.
For the last 20 years, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) has had to send back nearly 50 percent of the cases it receives because the VA failed to obtain the evidence needed to properly decide the benefits claim. During this same period, in over 70 percent of the BVA decisions appealed to court, the court has sent the case back to the BVA to correct one or more errors.
For decades, the military departments denied lifetime disability retirement benefits and health care to thousands of soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen separated for disability by refusing to use the favorable benefits criteria required by statute.
From 1991 to 2016, the Department of Defense withheld taxes from the lump-sum severance payments it made to 133,000 disabled veterans, despite the law making these payments tax-free, depriving veterans of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Since 9/11, the military has discharged thousands of soldiers, sailors, and marines for a personality or adjustment disorder without any disability benefits, even though they were diagnosed while in the military with PTSD and other mental disorders that qualify for disability benefits.
OPPOSING VETERANS’ RIGHTS
From 1978 to 1988, the VA fought legislation allowing veterans to obtain court review of a VA decision denying benefits. Ever since losing this battle, the VA has vigorously opposed a veteran’s right to bring a class action against the VA.