Last Monday, seven disabled combat veterans sued the VA because the VA still hasn’t released the health records the veterans need to apply for benefits.
Some of the veterans named in the suit have been waiting more than 25 months for records that should have been turned over to them by the VA within 20 days. That’s about 40 times longer than the VA is supposed to take to turn over the health records.
The suit was filed on behalf of the seven veterans in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) and the public advocacy group Public Citizen.
By law, the VA is supposed to release the records to the veterans within 20 days. If the VA is unable to do that for any reason, it is supposed to contact the veteran to say when the VA will provide the records. If the VA denies the request to release copies of the health records, it is supposed to give the veteran a explanation for the denial.
In the cases of the seven veterans, the VA has totally failed to do that.
Five of the seven veterans had requested their VA health records in order to apply for Combat-Related Special Compensation benefits. The other two veterans had requested their VA health records in order to apply to the Physical Disability Board of Review for rate increases in their disability benefits.
The Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) program is for combat-disabled military retirees who, by law, have had their monthly retirement check reduced by the amount of the disability compensation they have been awarded.
Congress established the tax-free Combat-Related Special Compensation program so that eligible retirees would get the benefit of their full retirement pay and disability compensation.
Under the CRSC program, qualified military retirees who have 20 or more years of service and who have a “combat related” VA-rated disability will no longer have their military retirement pay reduced by the amount of their VA disability compensation.
But the Combat-Related Special Compensation program only works if the veterans can get their health records from the VA to document that they have a “combat related” VA-rated disability rating.
The two other veterans named in the lawsuit had requested their health records from the VA in order to apply to the Physical Disability Board of Review for a higher disability rating. One of the veterans has been waiting 20 months and the other has been waiting nearly two years.
Congress created the Physical Disability Board of Review in 2008 after it was revealed that more than 77,000 injured Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen who were discharged from the military because of injury or medical reasons between 2001 and 2009 “may have been lowballed on disability ratings by the military and, therefore, denied the benefits to which they were entitled.”
The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to do two things: find that the VA has unreasonably delayed providing the veterans with the health records, and order the VA to produce the records to the veterans within 20 days.