COLORADO SPRINGS — A U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruling this week in favor of tens of thousands of veterans across the country forces the Veterans Administration to reimburse them for medical care they received at non V-A facilities.
What this means moving forward is an easier claims process and peace of mind for veterans who are caught in a web of paperwork and red tape to have their claims processed and reimbursed.
To be clear, the legal process could still move forward on this issue as the Veterans Administration says it is reviewing the court ruling and will decide soon if they will appeal.
The court ruling found that the V-A had violated a 2010 federal law, and a 2018 revision to that law that created another obstacle for veterans by forbidding the V-A from reimbursing medical expenses for emergency service at non-V-A facilities, even if it was a small part of the veterans bill.
But as it stands now, veterans, for example, if they have to go to the emergency room or face a medical situation that offers no other option than to receive care at a non V-A facilities, can count on the V-A to have to reimburse that amount of money that their private insurer or the military's Tri-Care Insurance program does not pay for.
To give you an example of just how bad this problem has become, the V-A's own inspector general report released in August showed that in one six month period, the V-A left roughly 17,400 veterans to pay out-of-pocket for $53-million in emergency medical treatment the government should have covered.
We spoke with Steve Kjonaas, the Colorado legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign War, about the ruling and he told us that at least in the short term, "I think this is going to be a little bit of a rough patch going through as veterans go back to claim the money they feel is owed to them from the V-A, but that as processes work out and change I think the newer processes or the adjusted streamline processes is gonna work out and the veterans are gonna be quite happy with it in time."
There are an estimated 250,000 veterans living in Colorado right now, so this is a huge deal for them, and puts at least a dent in the ongoing documentation of long waiting periods for treatment and insurance reimbursement that the V-A has been criticized for, for years.
Bart Stichman, executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services program, called it "a hard won victory" and that "the Court's decision rights a terrible injustice and it's order ensures that veterans who were unjustly denied reimbursement for critical emergency treatment at non V-A facilities will finally be reimbursed."
NBC News reports that the plaintiffs' lawyers in this class action suit, say that based on past estimates by the V-A itself, the department is now on the hook for between $1.8 billion and $6.5 billion in reimbursements to hundreds of thousands of veterans who have filed or will file claims between 2016 and 2025.