Lawyers spearheading a class action on behalf of military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder announced an agreement with the government today that they say could help thousands of former soldiers get disability benefits they were wrongfully denied.
The suit, filed in December 2008 by the National Veterans Legal Services Program and lawyers from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, alleged that the military had systematically ignored rules governing how to assign disability ratings, which determine what benefits – such as monthly payments and free health care – the veterans can qualify for. The suit alleged that military was giving soldiers discharged with PTSD ratings of 10% or less, even though they should have automatically qualified for a rating of 50%. A rating of 30% was required to qualify for lifetime health benefits.
Under the agreement announced today, an estimated 4,300 class members will be eligible for a faster review of their disability ratings, as well as a correction of their past and future benefits.
The lawsuit will be stayed for roughly a year to allow the review process to work as designed. Veterans are eligible for the class if they were discharged from the military between Dec. 17, 2002, and the present and were found unfit to serve in part because of a diagnosis of PTSD. Class members have until July 24 to opt in to the case.
Morgan partner James Kelley II said the object of the suit was not to seek punitive damages or assign blame, but to make sure veterans are given the benefits to which they are entitled. He called the interim resolution “a gigantic step” in the right direction. But if it does not work as planned, Kelley said the litigation could continue.