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Lawsuit: Long delay in getting VA medical records could be affecting crucial benefits

A claims assistant files veterans cases into enormous rows of filing cabinets at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Los Angeles on December 5, 2012.

RICK LOOMIS/LOS ANGELES TIMES/MCT

By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 20, 2015

Seven disabled veterans have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs, claiming they have been waiting for their medical records for 10 months  to more than two years, potentially delaying crucial benefits.

The suit was filed Monday by the National Veterans Legal Services Program on behalf of the veterans, who come from across the country. Filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the suit asks that the VA produce the plaintiffs’ records within 20 days.

Bart Stichman, co-executive director of National Veterans Legal Services Program, said he thinks the problem is widespread and that many veterans get frustrated by the delays and give up, never getting their benefits.

“There’s no good reason to me,” he said. “How hard is it to photocopy a file?”

The plaintiffs need their files to apply for further compensation. Five believe they are eligible for Combat-Related Special Compensation, which is a monthly payment for military retirees with combat-related disabilities. Veterans need their medical records to file for disability benefits and to appeal benefits decisions.

“This delay is preventing me from applying for benefits that would help me to live a better life,” plaintiff Juan Rodriguez said in a statement released through the Legal Services Program.

VA officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The VA has been embroiled in a yearlong scandal that cost former secretary Eric Shinseki his job, and some lawmakers and veterans advocates are frustrated by the pace of change at the agency. Even now, VA whistleblowers say they continue to face retaliation and new controversies regularly pop up, including a recently released VA Inspector General’s investigation into the Philadelphia VA Medical Center that showed employees were keeping mail from veterans for years without a response, potentially delaying their benefits.

druzin.heath@stripes.com
Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes
  

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