Veterans' psychiatric benefits: enter courts and attorneys.

L. F. Sparr, R. White, M. J. Friedman and D. B. Wiles,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law 22(2): 205-22, 1994.
In 1988, the Veterans Judicial Review Act (VJRA) was signed into law, ending more than a century of Congressional measures that kept veterans' benefits claims completely out of the appellate court system. Before this new law, any decision made by the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) about a veteran's claim was final, and there was no recourse for independent judgment of an appeal. The legislation modified the existing Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) to enhance its independence from the Veterans' Administration and established a new Court of Veterans Appeals (CVA) with jurisdiction to review BVA decisions. Veterans' benefits proceedings have not only been insulated from the courts, they also have been undesirable to private attorneys, because since 1864 Congress has prohibited attorneys from charging more than $10 to advocate a VA disability claim. The new law allows attorneys to represent veterans before the CVA and receive appropriate remuneration. In 1991, the number of veterans was estimated at 26,897,000, and VA disability compensation programs spent $9.6 billion. Currently, there are about 2,179,000 veterans receiving service-connected monetary compensation; approximately 13.5 percent (293,200) have a primary psychiatric disability. The CVA is a specialized Article I court that has seven justices and sits in Washington, D.C. In its formative years, the Court has reached decisions that have had an impact on the veterans' psychiatric benefits examination process. Now more than ever, non-VA psychiatrists may be asked to offer probative opinions in veterans' benefits proceedings. The authors review VA psychiatric disability procedures and, using case examples, discuss both precedent decisions involving VA psychiatric claimants and the evolving standards of judicial review. [References: 96]