Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki was ordered to pay $19,594.80, as well as attorney fees, for failing to handle a remand order in a reasonable amount of time.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims found that Secretary Shinseki to have broken federal law when he did not review Cleveland Harvey’s benefits as ordered in a reasonable amount of time. Harvey waited more than two years before he was given a full review of his benefits.
This marks the first time that the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims found that the VA was in civil contempt for failing to handle a benefit review in due time, according to the lawyer involved in the case. She hoped that the case would ensure that veterans would be given reviews more quickly in the future.
The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims found “a parade of administrative miseries” in the case.
They found that the Board of Veterans Appeals did not request to see Harvey’s veteran’s claims file until four months after the court order to review Harvey’s benefits was issued in 2008. The file was then transferred multiple times, ending up in the wrong regional office at least once. The court also found that the Board showed poor electronic record keeping while monitoring the claim and that the staff had failed to pay attention to a letter that had most of the information necessary to calculate Harvey’s benefits.
After Harvey had not heard anything for a full year, he filed a petition in early 2010 and provided an oral argument later that year.
The VA currently has about 785,000 pending compensation and pension claims, and is expected to receive more as veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan return home and seek benefits. Secretary Shinseki, who took his current position in 2009, has stated that VA claim reviews will be processed in 125 days maximum and that the waiting list will be reduced dramatically by 2016. The VA has hired additional staffers and is employing new technology in an effort to achieve these goals.