November 11, 2020
WASHINGTON D.C. – Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) and Swords to Plowshares (Swords), with the pro bono assistance of DLA Piper, filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit case, Lynch v. Wilkie. CVLC enthusiastically supports Joe A. Lynch and the positive ramifications his case will have for all veterans pursuing claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Together, CVLC and Swords ask the Court to reexamine the standard applied when adjudicating veterans’ claims. The VA has diluted the Congressionally mandated “benefit of the doubt” standard by approving veterans only when the “approximate balance of evidence” is in equipoise, denying cases even when the call is close. This misapplication of the standard, and the adversarial way in which the VA adjudicates veterans’ claims, has led to denials in cases where veterans have presented persuasive and uncontroverted evidence.
The brief presents Mr. Lynch’s story, which is compelling and also all too common amongst our nation’s veterans. Sleeping in “coffin” bunks, evacuating civilians in conflict zones, and watching fellow service members perish in a helicopter crash are only a few examples of the traumatizing experiences that haunt Mr. Lynch. After waiting 30 years, crippled by the stigma of seeking help, Mr. Lynch saw three different therapists, each diagnosing him with service-connected PTSD.
Still, the VA failed Mr. Lynch. Two of the three clinicians that evaluated Mr. Lynch observed extreme symptoms; the third observed Mr. Lynch on a day when his symptoms were less severe. The VA took the outnumbered, less severe examination and made it the basis for the agency’s decisive (and flawed) denial of Mr. Lynch’s claim.
The VA is not meant to operate in a manner adversarial to our veterans. The Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000 expressly stated the “benefit of the doubt” standard because, as quoted in the brief, “veterans should not be ‘denied benefits when science moves at a slower pace than suffering.’” Because the VA’s misapplication affects thousands of veterans, this case implicates “a question of exceptional importance” and deserves a precedent setting en banc review. The VA must support our veterans. It must apply the pro-veteran standards Congress intended.
About CVLC and the Veterans Inclusion Project
Connecticut Veterans Legal Center’s mission is to remove legal barriers to health care, housing, and income for veterans in recovery from homelessness and mental illness. As a part of this work, CVLC attorneys assist veterans in VA disability claims, character of discharge determinations, and discharge upgrade petitions to the Department of Defense. CVLC recently launched the Veterans Inclusion Project, an initiative focused on advocating for policy changes to create a more inclusive veterans benefit system for the most vulnerable low-income veterans: those who are living with mental illness, trauma, substance dependence, and homeless; as well as those who have experienced military sexual trauma and those who have been harmed by discrimination or other injustices in the DoD and VA systems.
About Swords to Plowshares
Swords to Plowshares (Swords), founded in 1974, is a community-based not-for-profit organization that provides needs assessment and case management, employment and training, housing, and legal assistance to veterans in the San Francisco Bay Area. Swords promotes and protects the rights of veterans through advocacy, public education, and partnerships with local, state, and national entities. The Swords Legal Department targets its services to homeless and other low-income veterans seeking assistance with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability benefits, character of discharge determinations, and Department of Defense (DOD) military discharge upgrades.
Media Contact: Antea Gatalica, firstname.lastname@example.org