Orrick Pro Bono Team Guides Class Action for Veterans Facing Delays in Benefits Claims

December.18.2019

An Orrick pro bono team, in collaboration with the National Veterans Legal Services Program, has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of veterans against the U.S. Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force as a result of their failure to meet congressionally-mandated statutory deadlines to decide claims for corrections of an individual’s military records. The complaint alleges this systemic problem has in many cases delayed access to vital benefits for thousands of veterans.

The class action, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. earlier this week, seeks relief for tens of thousands of veterans potentially impacted by the ongoing violations of these timeliness requirements mandated by Congress for Correction of Military Records (BCMRs). A veteran or service member seeking to change his or her military records must submit an application to the Correction Board for the applicable branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and those corrections boards are required to issue a final decision within 18 months (with limited exceptions).

But as the lawsuit asserts, all three military branches have admitted they have been violating this 18-month timeliness requirement, yet have taken no steps to address the problem. According to the complaint, the lack of timeliness violates 10 U.S.C § 1557, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the due process rights of the adversely affected veterans and servicemembers under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. 

There are two class plaintiffs in the case: Walter Calhoun, a U.S. Army veteran who has been waiting three years for a decision on his claim, which has delayed his application for combat-related compensation for a number of conditions, including PTSD, a headache disorder and arthritis in both knees; and John Doe, a decorated U.S. army veteran of the Iraq War who has been waiting more than two years for his records adjustment claim to be resolved, delaying his disability retirement benefits.

Partner Jay Jurata has led Orrick’s pro bono team, which also includes Rene Kathawala, Matt LaBrie, Shane McCammon, Michael Buchanan and Frank Zalom.