Veterans

Another lawsuit filed over VA's informal claims changes

Another coalition of veterans groups is suing the Veterans Affairs Department over its changes to the informal claims process, saying officials have created "a rigid and veteran-unfriendly system."

Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars filed suit Thursday, arguing that VA's decision to end the informal claims process could prevent thousands from receiving benefits they are owed.

"Some veterans may be physically, mentally or financially unable to access the correct forms and VA is not providing a reasonable accommodation," DAV National Service Director Jim Marszalek said in a statement. "This creates an unfair disadvantage for many veterans and places them in a situation where critical compensation will be denied or delayed."

It's the second major lawsuit against the department on the issue since March, when VA officials announced plans to dump the informal claims process.

For years, that process had allowed veterans to use any documentation — including handwritten letters and simple one-line notes — to initiate their benefits claims.

The loose nature of the process locked in effective dates for future payouts but also left department officials complaining about the lack of consistent and coherent information to start work on cases.

Now, VA requires the claims process to begin with a new standardized form, made available by the department online, by phone or for paper submission.

But veterans groups have argued that move places too much of a burden on veterans, noting that individuals filing informal claims are unfamiliar with VA resources and procedures.

Just days after the policy shift, a coalition that included the American Legion, AMVETS, the National Veterans Legal Services Program and Vietnam Veterans of America sued to reverse the changes. The new lawsuit follows that same goal.

"Congress' intent for the VA was to create a system that would 'fully and sympathetically develop the veteran's claim to its optimum before deciding on its merits,' " Marszalek said. "And that is clearly not the case with this new policy."

VA officials have been vague about how many veterans could be affected by the changes. Veterans groups estimate the figure could top 100,000 claims over the next 12 months.

Department officials have dismissed criticism of the changes, arguing the new forms are simply bookkeeping changes that will not significantly harm any veterans.

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