Constitutional Law

Veterans Sue for Stress Disorder Benefits

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Lawyers representing veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are filing a class action lawsuit claiming the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to provide care for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Morrison & Foerster and partner Gordon Erspamer are handling the case on a pro bono basis. Erspamer waged his own 11-year battle against the VA to obtain benefits for his own father, who died from leukemia after exposure to nuclear bomb testing.

The suit (PDF) claims the VA is underfunded and understaffed, resulting in case backlogs and repeated claim denials. “The system for deciding VA claims has largely collapsed,” the complaint reads. “The VA claims adjudication system is currently mired in processing a backlog of over 600,000 claims, many of which have been pending for years.

The class, made up of veterans suffering from PTSD seeking death or disability payments, could be as large as 750,000 persons, a press release says.

The suit alleges the VA deliberately misclassified some PTSD problems as existing personality disorders to avoid paying benefits, the Associated Press reports.

“More than 22,500 soldiers across the armed forces have been suspiciously diagnosed and discharged with ‘personality disorder’ in the last six years, condemning them to a lifetime of disability without any compensation or access to VA medical care,” the complaint says.

A VA spokesman told the wire service that he could not comment on the litigation, but the department makes disability claims a priority.

The suit, being filed today in federal court in San Francisco, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. It claims restrictions of veterans’ procedural rights, by law and in practice, are unconstitutional.

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