New Bill Threatens the Equal Access to Justice Act, Legal Access for Veterans

The Senate will face a huge decision next week when Continuing Resolution HR1 is up for vote. Congress is in the middle of attempting to iron out the budget for 2012, and is doing so at the expense of federal funding and programs. The House authorized $61 billion in budget cuts by passing Continuing Resolution HR1 last week. In doing so, it put disabled veterans and Social Security disability claimants on the proverbial chopping block.

Suing the government is almost always going to be a very financially expensive endeavor. The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) provides those people suing the government, such as veterans attempting to collect disability compensation, the ability to recover attorney fees associated with such an undertaking; up to $125/hour. If the EAJA applicant wins their case, their attorney fees are reimbursed following their case closing. The EAJA provides more than just financial assistance, however. More importantly, it provides people of every social class a vehicle with which they can pursue perceived injustices against the overpowering government.

This is important as many veterans disability lawyers and Social Security disability lawyers rely on these fees to help their clients instead of charging people who clearly do not have adequate income hefty legal fees.  Without this legal assistance, many disabled people would not have the resources or knowledge to successfully obtain their disability benefits.

Attached to Continuing Resolution HR1 is Amendment 195, which will serve to temporarily stall out EAJA payments. Not one dime of the funds the Continuing Resolution HR1 authorizes will be available for the types of payments available through the EAJA. Amendment 195’s language is not definitive. What is certain is there would be no more EAJA payments in 2011, and it is unclear when, exactly, EAJA funds would again become available for disbursement, if they would be available in the same amounts, or if they would ever become available again.

There are tens to hundreds of thousands of veterans depending on Social Security and disability payments for their survival. Without the EAJA payments available, only a small fraction of those veterans would be able to successfully navigate the disability claims process. Without guarantee of payment at the end of the process, few lawyers will represent veterans throughout the claims process. So not only are veterans and their families depending on the Social Security Act affected by this Amendment, but disability law firms across the country are affected as well.

So next week the Senate will face down the Continuing Resolution HR1 and Amendment 195. Hopefully they will do the right thing and not allow this pay freeze to go into effect. If you want to help protect the rights of disabled veterans to get the legal access they need to win their disability benefits, you can contact your U.S. Senator today.

If you are a disabled veteran who has been denied disability compensation or have not yet applied for benefits from the VA, contact Veterans Help Group. You may be entitled to certain programs and benefits so contact our veterans disability rights firm today.