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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Appellate Court Rules Veterans Can Pursue Class Actions Over VA Delays

On April 26, 2017, the Federal Circuit ruled that veterans seeking to challenge delays at the VA may aggregate their claims and file a class action. The ruling in Monk v. Shulkin overturns decades of precedent at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) which denied individual veterans the ability to proceed on behalf of others facing similar challenges to obtaining their benefits.

The case is being handled by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, which represents the plaintiff Conley Monk.

According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 427,000 veterans face an average delay of three years appealing the denial of benefits before they receive a decision, and about 81,000 veterans face an average delay of five years. Conley Monk, a Vietnam veteran from New Haven, Connecticut, had been waiting over a year when he requested the CAVC order the VA to process his appeal and the appeals of those veterans similarly situated. The CAVC denied the request, stating that it lacked the authority to hear class actions, according to the clinic.

The Federal Circuit overturned the denial. Noting that class actions would “promote efficiency, consistency, and fairness” in CAVC decisions, the Federal Circuit held the CAVC “has authority to certify a class for class action or similar aggregate resolution procedure.” The Federal Circuit has remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings on whether a class action is appropriate in Monk’s particular case.

“In the military, we fight as a unit. Now, at long last, the court has recognized that veterans also may fight together,” Monk said. “I am very excited to hear about the Federal Circuit's decision. All veterans should have the opportunity to receive the benefits they earned, and I hope that the ability to join together in a class action suit before the CAVC helps veterans in need get one step closer to that.” Monk continues to advocate for veterans’ issues through his organization, the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress. 

 “For years, veterans were prevented from bringing claims on behalf of themselves and their fellow veterans,” said John Giammatteo ’17, a law student intern at the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic. “Today, the Federal Circuit corrected this critical oversight and affirmed that veterans should be able to join together and claim the benefits to which they are entitled through their service.”

In the Veterans Legal Services Clinic, students have represented Connecticut veterans in litigation before administrative agencies and courts, on benefits, discharge upgrade, immigration, and pardon matters. In addition, students represent local and national organizations in non-litigation matters relating to the legal needs of veterans, including regulatory and legislative reform efforts, media advocacy, strategic planning, and other matters.