Five whistleblowers at a Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) regional office in Oakland, California say that more than 13,000 veteran requests for disability benefits were deliberately—and illegally—not replied to, reports CBS News.
The Veterans Benefits Administration is the arm of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that provides disability compensation and other entitlements to former military members and their families.
Claimants are allowed to file what’s known as an informal claim with the VBA in order to establish an effective date for benefits. By law, the VBA must respond with a formal application to the claimant, who then has one year to complete the application. If the veteran’s claim is approved, he or she is entitled to a retroactive lump sum payment based on the effective date established by the informal claim.
But according to CBS, the Oakland VBA office ignored more than 13,000 informal claims received between 1996 and 2009. When a team was assigned to process those claims two year ago, supervisors told team members to mark them “no action necessary”.
One whistleblower, Rustyann Brown, said she voiced concerns over the claims and was taken off the project.
“We were getting letters from elderly veterans and from widows who were literally at the end of their life, begging for help,” Brown said. “The VA didn’t help them. The VA didn’t care about them. They took [the claims], they put them in a file, and they stuffed them away.”
Brown says that many of the veterans were owed money. At the very least, they were owed an answer from the VA.
Report Underscores Importance of Having VA Claims Representative
The VA’s recent history of claims mismanagement is one reason why veterans and their families should work with an experienced, VA-accredited claims representative.
Rather than filing an informal claim with the VA, your best chance of a successful benefits application lies in submitting all necessary documents at one time (known as a Fully Developed Claim, or FDC). A claims representative will make sure that all paperwork and evidence requirements needed to obtain VA benefits are properly filed and let you know what to expect next in the application process.
A claims representative helps not only veterans but also their survivors. In some cases, the spouses and children of deceased veterans are not even aware that they are entitled to benefits.
The CBS report describes how Dorrie Stafford, whose husband’s claim was ignored by the Oakland VBA, didn’t realize there was such a thing as widow benefits. These benefits include things like help with burial expenses, monthly compensation, and educational assistance.
And veterans themselves may not be aware that having an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma or lung cancer can entitle them to disability compensation.
Veterans and survivors can find out whether they qualify for disability compensation and get started with the application process using our VA benefits guide.
Please keep in mind that receiving VA benefits does not disqualify you from filing a lawsuit against the asbestos companies responsible for your asbestos exposure.
If you have questions about benefits or applying for them, or you want to know more about an asbestos lawsuit, please contact Belluck & Fox.
You served your country. Now we are here to help you.