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FEDERAL COURT GRANTS DAV INJUNCTION RESTORING DISABILITY COMPENSATION TO INCOMPETENT VETERANS

FEDERAL COURT GRANTS DAV INJUNCTION RESTORING DISABILITY COMPENSATION
 TO INCOMPETENT VETERANS
 WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has granted a preliminary injunction against the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) implementation of a law suspending disability compensation for certain "mentally incompetent" veterans. The class action was brought by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), a non-profit organization of more than 1 million disabled veterans. The injunction forces the VA to resume disability compensation payments to over 13,500 service-connected incompetent veterans who are unable to handle their own financial affairs.
 The DAV filed its lawsuit against the VA in February last year on behalf of 38,000 service-connected incompetent veterans nationwide who could be affected by the law, a provision of the 1990 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA). The law suspends compensation for certain incompetent veterans -- those who have neither a spouse, dependent child or dependent parent -- when their estates reach a value of $25,000. Under the new provision, compensation would not be resumed until the veteran's estate is reduced to less than $10,000.
 In issuing the injunction, U.S. District Judge Shirley Wohl Kram found that the plaintiffs have established a "strong likelihood of success" on the merits of their claim that the statute is unconstitutional because it treats mentally incompetent disabled veterans differently than similarly situated competent veterans. The judge found that the plaintiffs were likely to prove that the statute violated the equal protection guarantees of the U.S. Constitution.
 In part of her 38-page decision, the judge found that the statute was based on "irrational discrimination against the mentally disabled." She wrote that the "virtually exclusive, if unintended, result (of the statute) is impermissible discrimination against mentally incompetent disabled veterans."
 "Score one for disabled veterans," said DAV National Commander Cleveland Jordan. "For the last 70 years they kept the faith in defense of this country and now their service and sacrifice are being recognized. The court has said 'this will not stand.' Mentally incompetent disabled vets should not have to bear the burdens of either the budget deficit or unfair stereotypes," he added.
 Joseph C. Zengerle of the Washington office of Bingham, Dana & Gould, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said: "This is an extraordinary decision. Ordinarily, courts give Congress wide latitude in passing laws, except for those instances when such factors as race or free speech are involved. In this case, such factors were not involved. Nevertheless, Judge Kram agreed with DAV and found that the statue is likely to be unconstitutional because discrimination against mentally incompetent veterans was apparently based on their mental disabilities alone."
 -0- 2/4/92
 /CONTACT: Joseph C. Zengerle of Bingham, Dana & Gould, 202-822-9320/ CO: Disabled American Veterans ST: District of Columbia IN: SU:


TW -- DC018 -- 6306 02/03/92 15:58 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Feb 3, 1992
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