Judge won't intervene in veteran disability disputeCNN
December 17, 2008
A federal judge has refused to intervene in a dispute over delays in paying disability benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Military groups wanted an injunction imposing deadlines to process and settle medical claims as a way of providing immediate help to those who need it.
"These veterans are suffering," said attorney Robert Cattanach, who represents two military groups suing to force action. "If there is no remedy with this court, hundreds of thousands of veterans are left without a remedy."
He told the judge that the VA's processing backlog is approaching a million disability claims nationwide.
But at a Wednesday hearing, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said it's up to Congress, not the courts, to determine whether the VA is handling claims in a timely manner.
"You come to the court and ask me to overrule Congress," Walton said.
"This court would be put in the position of micromanaging the VA," Justice Department attorney Ronald Wiltsie argued in opposition to the request for court-imposed deadlines.
Walton agreed, but not before making clear his compassion for those with a service-related illness.
"I would like to feel that our nation, when we put our people in harm's way, has a system for relief" when they become disabled.
But in denying the motion for injunctive relief, he said he could not "conclude all claims result in irreparable harm if not adjudicated in the time frame requested."
Separately, Walton will soon address a government motion to dismiss the civil suit that was filed November 11 by the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veterans of Modern Warfare.