For the first time ever, a federal court allows a whole class of veterans to sue the VA

Abbie Bennett
June 18, 2019 - 11:08 am

ID 76967936 © Sherry Young | Dreamstime.com

A lawsuit seeking relief for veterans facing long wait times for disability benefits appeals was allowed to move ahead, a federal court ruled. It’s the first time a class-action lawsuit against the VA has been allowed by the court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) last week ruled that the case could continue, which legal experts say could open up opportunities for similar cases against the Veterans Administration. Last August, the CAVC ruled that class-action suits in “appropriate cases” would be allowed against the VA, but none had risen to that level until Godsey v. Wilkie.

The Godsey case, filed in 2017, involved four veterans seeking relief for long waits for their disability benefits appeals claims, James Godsey Jr., Jeffery Henke, Thomas Marshall and Pamela Whitfield.

The court would later allow the case to be expanded to cover a class of veterans all waiting for the process to begin their disability benefits appeals claims for 18 months or longer. The court decided that an 18-month or longer delay by the VA to begin the appeals process is “per se unreasonable” and “such delays are particularly intolerable because they consist of nothing but waiting in line … no action whatsoever on the part of the VA.”

Plaintiffs applauded the court’s ruling as a win for veterans stuck waiting for benefits because of VA delays.

 “CAVC’s order certifying a class action for the first time in its 30-year history is a landmark moment, and will help ensure that our veterans and their families have more access to the justice they deserve” Bart Stichman, executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), said in a statement to Connecting Vets. “It’s been a long time coming. At last, this precedential order opens the door for veterans to receive efficient, consistent and fair adjudications just as Congress intended.” NVLSP and Covington & Burling LLP brought the lawsuit against the VA.

"(We) are not content to wait for the Secretary to remedy these unreasonable delays on his own,” the court wrote. “The Secretary has had many years to act and initiate pre-certification review of class members' cases, and he has failed to do so. Ms. Whitfield, for example, was forced to wait over six years for the Secretary to act on her Substantive Appeal based on no fault of her own. Simply put: the time has come for judicial intervention."

Under the court order, the VA must review and move forward all veteran appeals that have been waiting at least 18 months by October 11 and must update the court on its progress by August 12.

Want to get more connected to the stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Follow Abbie Bennett, @AbbieRBennett.