(This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue Military Officer, a magazine available to all MOAA Premium and Life members. Learn more about the magazine here; learn more about joining MOAA here.)
It’s not uncommon to come across advertising that touts filing a lawsuit to gain benefits or compensation from injury. And some ads specifically target veterans who suffer from exposure to toxins during their service.
But it’s important for veterans to understand what’s at stake with disability benefits before filing a lawsuit or joining a class action.
A lawsuit might result in the veteran defendant receiving some monetary compensation for their toxic exposure or other injury, not just medical payment recoupment.
But veterans should take pause when deciding whether to join a lawsuit. If veterans receive compensation from such a lawsuit, the Justice Department will consult with the VA to “offset” any lawsuit compensation a veteran has already received (or is receiving) from the VA for the same disabilities. The government will not allow you to be compensated twice for the same purpose. The amount of recoupment or offset will include the fees lawyers extract from the settlement.
Instead, veterans should seek the free services of an accredited veterans service organization (VSO) before talking to a law firm bringing forth litigation. The largest VSOs — Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and Disabled American Veterans — have been servicing veteran and survivor claims for decades and will provide unbiased expert advice on VA benefits.
Most states also participate in the county VSO program. You can find your nearest county VSO by searching online for your state’s department of veteran services.