(NEW YORK, NY) December 18, 2020: NYLAG and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School received a historic win for veterans suffering due to radiation exposure.
In a nationwide class decision released yesterday afternoon, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) ordered the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reexamine how it evaluates disability claims of veterans exposed to ionizing radiation in a 1966 nuclear cleanup operation at Palomares, Spain. In Skaar v. Wilkie (No. 17-2574), the CAVC found that the VA had not fulfilled its legal responsibility to determine whether the method it uses to assess Palomares veterans’ radiation exposure is scientifically sound. The VA has relied on this unsound science to deny disability benefits for radiation illnesses to veterans who responded to the nuclear disaster. The Court’s decision is a long-awaited step towards recognizing Palomares veterans’ service and ensuring they have access to the benefits they earned. Thursday’s decision comes one year after the Court’s historic decision in the same case to certify the first-ever class of veteran claimants in a direct appeal from the VA benefits system.
Meghan Brooks, a Justice Catalyst fellow with NYLAG’s Special Litigation Unit and Veterans Practice, said, “For too long, the Air Force’s fatally flawed Palomares methodology has gone unchecked. We applaud the Court for its forceful reminder that VA cannot abdicate its responsibility to examine the evidence underlying radiation-exposed veterans’ claims carefully.”
“This historic decision by the Court will pave the way for Palomares veterans to finally receive compensation and respect for the sacrifices they made at the clean-up,” said Lara Markey, a law student intern with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. “It is time for the VA finally to recognize the service and wounds of those who responded at Palomares.”
Founded in 1990, New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) is a leading civil legal services organization combatting economic, racial, and social injustice by advocating for people experiencing poverty or in crisis. Our services include comprehensive, free civil legal services, financial empowerment, impact litigation, policy advocacy, and community partnerships. NYLAG exists because wealth should not determine who has access to justice. We aim to disrupt systemic racism by serving individuals and families whose legal and financial crises are often rooted in racial inequality. NYLAG goes to where the need is, providing services in more than 150 community sites (e.g. courts, hospitals, libraries) and on our Mobile Legal Help Center. During COVID-19, most of our services are virtual to keep our community safe. NYLAG’s staff of 300 impacted the lives of nearly 90,000 people last year.