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Daniel L. Nagin, Goals v. Deadlines: Notes on the VA Backlog, 10 U. Mass. L. Rev. 50 (2015).
Categories:
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Military & Veterans Law
Type: Article
Abstract
Drawing primarily on policy considerations, social science research, and the relevant statutory and doctrinal frameworks within veterans benefits law, this article argues that Congress should subject the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to a clear and enforceable deadline for making initial eligibility determinations on claims for service-connected compensation. Despite widespread media coverage of delays in VA’s adjudication system and countless oversight hearings and congressional proposals for reform, this simple idea – to impose a hard deadline upon VA has either been overlooked entirely or drowned out by a preoccupation with other types of legislative responses to the VA claims backlog. This article seeks to enter the debate about remedying the backlog from a slightly different vantage point than the perspectives used to date, one that focuses on the nature of deadlines – including the psychology of deadlines, the enforcement of deadlines, and the role deadlines might play in promoting perceptions of agency fairness and legitimacy. Along the way, the article draws on VA’s own data to reveal the long-standing gap between the agency’s timeliness goals and its performance. The reform proposed here is admittedly modest in many respects; it is far from a cure all for delay. But it does reflect certain fundamental values that should animate any reforms to the VA system: expanding enforcement tools, applying lessons learned from past VA failures, and treating veterans with dignity.
Daniel L. Nagin, The Credibility Trap: Notes on a VA Evidentiary Standard, 45 Memphis L. Rev. 887 (2015).
Categories:
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Military & Veterans Law
Type: Article
Abstract
This Essay explores some of the dimensions of traditional evidence law when it is applied in the realm of veterans benefits. In particular, the Essay focuses on VA credibility determinations, which have been the subject of several important court decisions in the last few years and are a common issue raised on appeal when veterans challenge adverse VA decisions on judicial review. The central point is that even though the veterans benefits field is permeated with so-called "veteran friendly" presumptions and legal doctrines, including with respect to the weighing of evidence, VA continues to disbelieve veteran claimants by relying on a common law credibility test that is too often nonsensical as applied and decidedly veteran unfriendly in practice. I call this dynamic the credibility trap. When VA communicates to a veteran that it does not believe him or her, VA sends a powerful and disquieting message to those who have worn the uniform. So, it is especially important that VA get it right when making an adverse credibility determination. No agency can be expected to adjudicate complex cases, which disability claims very often are, with 100% accuracy. But the framework VA uses to decide whether a veteran is credible should have sufficient protections to limit the number of false negative errors. The credibility trap has downstream consequences too, beyond depriving individual veterans of earned compensation. It contributes to VA's own administrative burdens, as claims denied on credibility grounds are prone to enter already backlogged appeal, remand, and claim reopening pipelines. The point is not that VA should somehow be prohibited from evaluating a veteran's credibility or from finding a veteran's statements incredible, or that VA should approve every claim a veteran files. Rather, as explained more fully below, the point is that the credibility trap reveals one of the less visible tensions in VA benefit scheme when common law standards from adversarial proceedings are married to the supposedly informal, non-adversarial framework of the veterans benefit system. There are important lessons from this experience for efforts to reform VA system.
Daniel L. Nagin, Repeat Performances and Learning by Transfer, 19 Law Tchr. 6 (2012).
Categories:
Legal Profession
Sub-Categories:
Legal Education
Type: Article
Margaret Kuzma, Dana Montalto, Elizabeth Gwin & Daniel Nagin, Military Discharge Upgrade: Legal Practice Manual (American Bar Association 2021).
Categories:
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Military & Veterans Law
Type: Book
Abstract
This landmark publication—the first of its kind in 30 years—enables advocates to successfully represent veterans who unjustly received less-than-honorable or other stigmatizing discharges. Written by attorneys from the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School’s Veterans Legal Clinic and Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, this book helps bring honor and life-altering benefits to veterans.