Ackerman Bill Seeks To Aid Vets Blocked From Appeals Process And Denied Benefits
Legislation has been introduced by Congressmember Gary Ackerman to fix a broken appeals process that is denying more than 200 war veterans the chance to appeal for their benefits after missing “a rigid and arbitrary deadline” set by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims, known as the Veterans Court.
U.S. Senator Arlen Spector (D–Pennsylvania) recently introduced a bill similar to Ackerman’s in the Senate.
The Fair Access to Veterans Benefits Act would require the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims, Veterans Court, to hear appeals of administrative decisions denying veterans benefits when circumstances beyond their control—often the very service-connected disabilities that entitle them to benefits—render them unable to meet the deadline for filing an appeal, said Ackerman (D–Bayside/Long Island).
Additionally, the bill requires the Veterans Court to reinstate untimely appeals already dismissed as a result of that court’s failure to extend the filing period for a good cause, Ackerman added.
The legislation was triggered by a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the federal circuit, which ruled against allowing a veteran to pursue his appeal because he missed a deadline.
“We need to change the appeals process so that it works for veterans rather than against them,” Ackerman said. “It is unconscionable that veterans with service-connected disabilities are being denied the right to appeal VA (Veterans Administration) decisions because of an arbitrary deadline that many are incapable of meeting due to the very service-connected disabilities from which they suffer. We can never thank our veterans enough for the sacrifices they made, and now we must do all we can to help them receive the benefits that they rightly deserve.”
The plaintiff, David Henderson, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia as a result of his active-duty service in the Korean War, Ackerman said.
The government denied Henderson’s benefits claim in 2004 and dismissed his appeal because he missed a filing deadline by just 15 days, Ackerman said. Hendererson then asked the Veterans Court to excuse his late filing because it was caused by his service-connected disability, a claim his psychiatrist supported under oath.
The Veterans Court refused to do so, and a divided federal court affirmed its decision.
Last week, Congressmember John Adler (D–New Jersey), a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, sent a letter to House VA Committee Chair Bob Fisher, demanding an investigatory hearing into the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Claim Processing System.