Recently, a Federal Circuit Court judge chastised the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for allowing the agency’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals to continue to use a disputed procedural rule in hearings – despite the VA’s expressed promise to no longer employ the rule.
Specifically, the rule in question – which was not supposed to used – limited certain due process rights for veterans seeking benefits before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The court found the continued application of this rule so egregious that it believes sanctions may be appropriate. Furthermore, the court ordered the government to now show cause why sanctions should not be enforced against the responsible officials.
Due process rights in VA benefits process
The veterans’ benefits system in the United States was supposed to be designed to be very veteran-friendly. In fact, various procedural due process and appellate rights are afforded to veterans seeking benefits.
For instance, these rights include the requirement that officials at the VA need to help veterans with their benefit claims by explaining the issues in detail and suggesting the “submission of evidence which the claimant may have overlooked and which would be of advantage to the claimant’s position,” as outlined by the court’s recent opinion.
Traditionally, these due process rights were applied by the VA in both regional office hearings and in appeals before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. However, in 2011 the VA released a rule change that eradicated some of these rights in hearings before the appeals board.
Opponents of this rule change argued that it was not only created illegally but that it was “arbitrary and capricious.” Ultimately, the VA publicly admitted the new rule violated U.S. law and the government gave its commitment that the rule change would no longer be applied – a commitment that was broken, according to the recent Federal Circuit Court decision.
Specifically, several examples of the continued application of the disputed rule were submitted to the court. When expressing its displeasure with the VA’s action, the court stated that the “VA’s failure to abide by its commitments to this court and opposing counsel raises the question of whether we should exercise our inherent or statutory powers to issue sanctions against the agency and the responsible officials.”
Help when seeking VA benefits
Unfortunately, this recent opinion merely demonstrates the uphill battle that many veterans encounter when they are applying for VA benefits. In fact, many veterans are initially denied disability benefits when they first apply. Consequently, it is often a good idea to speak with an experienced VA disability benefits attorney if you believe you may be entitled to benefits and want assistance in filing your claim.