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Veteran Can Now File Class Action Lawsuits Against the VA

Published: 10/31/2018

There was recently a federal court ruling announced that opens the possibility for veterans to file suit against the Department of Veterans Affairs as a class, instead of individuals.  That, according to advocates, could create a significant change in how legal cases against the VA are handled.

The ruling, Monk v. Wilkie, came from the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.  The eight-justice panel ultimately ruled against the plaintiff’s claim that their case should proceed as a class-action suit, arguing it failed to meet previously established standards for such legal consideration.

They did say in appropriate cases” in the future, there would be potential for class action lawsuits.

“This is a watershed decision, and its importance should not be diminished merely because the court declined to certify this proposed class,” wrote Chief Judge Robert Davis.  “On the contrary, the court’s decision will shape our jurisprudence for years to come, and I hope, bring about positive change for our nation’s veterans.”

Fellow appeals court Judge Michael Allen said the decision “has been decades in coming and holds great promise as a means to address systemic problems in the VA system.”

In private lawsuits, individuals are required to prove specific harm or damage to them personally or their personal situation to win judgement.  In class action lawsuits, the plaintiffs can demonstrate harmful or illegal activity against a larger group.  This brings different standards for correction.

Officials who are with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, which is responsible for bringing suit on behalf of Vietnam veteran Conley Monk Jr., said the decision is a historic step forward.

“(Allowing class-action suits) will allow our nation’s veterans to unite in fighting for prompt answers to their disability benefits claims,” said clinic law student Catherine McCarthy said in a statement.  “The VA’s delays are intolerable, and we hope the court will exercise its class action authority to hold the agency to account.”

According to reports, it’s difficult to know right now if this will make it easier to establish an eligible case.  In this situation, the panel of judges reject Monk’s claim that all veterans facing long wait times for benefits appeals cases should be able to collectively sue the department to force a quicker response.

However, the new legal option could bring about groups of veterans with the same illness coming together to force a response from the VA, or to require policy changes based on problems reported by as similar group.