“This is one of many boxes that we have for Mr. Staab’s case,” attorney Jacqueline Schuh said as she began pulling out voluminous stacks of records that detail a legal battle with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The boxes of paperwork from a seven-year fight with the VA easily fill the conference room of Schuh’s small St Cloud, Minnesota law office.
The boxes of paperwork easily fill the conference room of Schuh’s small St Cloud, Minnesota law office.
“Seven years,” she said as she described her long fight to show the VA had wrongly denied Staab’s claims for emergency care.
Staab and Schuh appealed to the St Cloud VA twice and were denied both times.
They appealed again, this time to the Board of Veterans Appeals. They lost again as the Board ruled their claim was without legal merit.
“We didn’t give up,” said Schuh, who appealed again with the help of the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP).
They took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, arguing that the VA regulation used to deny Staab’s claim violated the Emergency Care Fairness Act of 2009.
In 2010, when 77-year-old Richard Staab had a heart attack and stroke, he was rushed to a nearby private hospital for open-heart surgery. Medicare covered a portion of his treatment, but Staab was left with about $48,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
“The denial was based upon the internal rule that the VA had been enforcing since 2010,” Schuh said. “But the internal rule was inconsistent with the law.”
When Congress passed the Emergency Care Fairness Act, it required the VA Secretary to cover qualified veteran’s emergency medical bills for which the veterans were “personally liable.”
Schuh and the NVLSP attorneys argued the law required VA to step in as a “secondary payer” when other health care insurers, such as Medicare, cover only a portion of the cost of a veteran’s emergency treatment leaving the veteran “personally liable” for the rest.
“It is pretty cut and dry,” Schuh said.
Richard Staab, now 84, is a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Korea.
In April 2016, the three-judge panel agreed. They ruled in Staab’s favor, striking down the regulation the VA had been using to deny veterans emergency medical claims nationwide.
The Court’s decision rebuked the VA, emphasizing that VA’s reimbursement regulation became “wholly inconsistent” with the governing statute when Congress amended it in 2009, but thereafter the VA unlawfully “declined to remedy this inconsistency.”
Read the decision in the case here.
The VA appealed that decision and the matter was pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, when in June 2017, VA Secretary David Shulkin made a surprise announcement.
Shulkin said the VA would “voluntarily withdraw” its appeal of the Staab case.
It was a huge victory – not just for Staab, but for veterans nationwide. And it has massive financial ramifications.
VA is now liable to pay 370,000 previously denied veteran’s claims, which according to the government agency’s own estimates totals more than $2 billion.
“This is one of those where you say, 'Yeah!'” Schuh said while pumping her fist. “There truly is good, and right is right, and the decision was right!”
“This is one of those where you say, 'Yeah!'” Jacqueline Schuh said while pumping her fist. “There truly is good, and right is right, and the decision was right!”