House Plan to Freeze Equal Access to Justice Act is Terrible News for Veterans
Northville, MI (Law Firm Newswire) March 10, 2011 - In an effort to curb environmental lawsuits, House Republicans proposed last month to impose a seven-month moratorium on the Equal Access to Justice Act, a move that may potentially hinder a veteran’s ability to pay for legal fees.
The Equal Access to Justice Act, or EAJA, was passed under the Reagan Administration to help the poor and elderly retain legal counsel when taking on the government in court. Veterans often use EAJA to afford legal counsel in cases of litigation and appellate procedures.
Now, House Republicans, some from Reagan’s own home state, claim that environmentalists are abusing EAJA to harass ranchers. Their proposal affects all lawsuits that use EAJA funds, even in cases regarding Social Security and veterans. Other members of the House have claimed that Republicans could have made an exception for Social Security cases and veterans in the wording of the proposal.
In 2009, 2,385 of 3,270 applications for EAJA fees in cases were approved, according to statistics published by POLITICO.
“When the Veteran’s Administration is wrong at the Court of Appeals, which it is about 75 percent of the time, VA has to pay legal fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The fees are limited, but fair,” said James G. Fausone, a veterans lawyer who works for Legal Help For Veterans, PLLC.
If the Senate passes the bill to place the moratorium on EAJA and President Obama signs it into law, veterans will be forced to foot their own legal bills, even in cases when the government is wrong.
Fausone also believes that fewer lawyers will be able to defend veterans in the Court of Appeals because they will not be earning enough to pay staff and overhead without the EAJA fees. Many lawyers currently choose to defend veterans for free, taking only the money provided by EAJA in cases that they win.
“I suggest the government rethink using this sledgehammer. The problem is the bureaucracy that denies people their rights, not that people prove the government’s missteps,” Fausone said. “Write your congressman and tell them to put the sledgehammer down and work on fixing the system. Do not deprive veterans of representation.”
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