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The Coming Home Project was launched by WNPR's Lucy Nalpathanchil in 2011 to tell the stories of veterans in transition and the issues that matter to them and their families.

Connecticut Veteran Sues VA Over Lengthy Appeals Process

Office of Richard Blumenthal
Conley Monk, Jr and U.S Senator Richard Blumenthal at Yale Law School on Monday.

A Vietnam veteran from New Haven has filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the government to quickly decide veterans' appeals for disability compensation. 

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has worked to reduce the amount of time a veteran waits for a decision on a service connected disability claim. But if a veteran wants to appeal the VA's decision, the process takes even longer, three and a half years. 

Marine Corps veteran, Conley Monk, Jr. served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970, but he was not diagnosed with combat related PTSD until late 2011. Soon after, he applied for a disability claim but it was denied. His suit highlights cases when the veteran faces financial or medical hardship who've been waiting more than one year to get a VA decision.

William Hudson is representing Monk through Yale Law School's Veteran Legal Services Clinic. Hudson said since starting the appeals process, Monk has been waiting 20 months for the VA to issue a decision. Hudson said another complication is Monk has requested a change to his other than honorable discharge status related to substance abuse and behavioral problems.

Hudson said, "While he's applied for a discharge status upgrade, he has not yet received that. So that then has a downstream effect of him not being entitled to VA benefits. What we're trying to communicate to the VA is that his PTSD is a service related disability which should entitle him to benefits from the VA."

Last year, a memo from then Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Department of Defense must take into account PTSD diagnoses when reviewing requests to upgrade discharges. 

Meanwhile, life hasn't gone smoothly for Monk. His house burned down and he struggled to find a place to live while dealing with significant medical problems. Monk said, "It's frustrating to be stuck in limbo. It's been hard to make ends meet to get treated for diabetes and PTSD."

Hudson said Monk is just one of thousands of veterans in similar situations. He said that's why the lawsuit urges the VA to decide appeals faster so veterans, especially the elderly aren't left waiting years for compensation related to their military service. 

Julia Shu is another student legal intern representing Monk. She said if a veteran sticks with the process and makes it to the Board of Veteran Appeals, they are often successful. Shu said in 2013, 75 percent of cases that made it to the Board (BVA) were either allowed or remanded back to a regional office for consideration.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal supports the lawsuit. As a ranking member on the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, he said, "The VA needs to improve and enhance its processing of appeals from denial of critical benefit applications. I support more resources and additional staff who will expedite these benefit applications and appeals."

Lucy leads Connecticut Public's strategies to deeply connect and build collaborations with community-focused organizations across the state.

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