Korean War Veteran Richard Staab had sued the VA after he had to personally pay nearly $48,000 following emergency open heart surgery and stroke care at a non-VA hospital.
Right before his death, after a decade long legal battle, his former lawyer Jackie Schuh told the I-Team’s Matthew Simon Staab received a small payment - far short of the nearly $48,000 judges ruled Staab was owed.
“He hung on just long enough to receive that check and then passed on,” Schuh told the I-Team. “The impact of his case will be felt by so many.”
“Unfortunately, the adversarial manner in which the VA handled the matter and the agency’s continued challenges over the years to Mr. Staab’s and other veterans’ claims for reimbursement of emergency services at non-VA facilities needlessly prolonged the rightful resolution of this matter,” National Veterans Legal Service Program Executive Director Bart Stichman added in a statement to the I-Team.
Stichman, and his NVLSP team, went onto represent Staab’s national case.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Mr. Staab’s passing,” Stichman added.
Despite Staab winning that 2016 case against the VA, and the VA losing a subsequent 2019 class action lawsuit attempting to replace rules put in place after the Staab decision, lawmakers said last year the VA was purposely appealing to avoid reimbursing more than 600,000 Veterans, including Staab, $1.8 to $6.5 billion who may have had their non-VA ER claims improperly denied.
Last year some federal lawmakers, including Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, attempted to mandate payment. After not gaining much traction, that legislation died with the end of last legislative session.
“Mr. Staab should never have had to fight for VA to pay his medical bills. I won’t stop fighting for veterans like Mr. Staab, the last thing they should have to worry about during a health emergency is whether they will be stuck with the bill for their medical expenses,” Sen. Brown told the I-Team in a statement. “I will work with my colleagues in Congress to reintroduce our bill, to ensure Ohio veterans do not shoulder this cost when they’ve earned benefits that should cover them.”
As the I-team previously reported, and was eventually cited in the federal case, only one, single $12 payment had been made under the Staab Rule at the time federal judges heard the class action lawsuit.
Under federal law, if a Veteran dies their benefit dies with them. For years, veterans’ advocates have worried about a potential chilling effect Staab not receiving full reimbursement could eventually mean for all veterans.
“They’ll be a lot of tears shed when he passes anyway. But this just makes it all the more devastating,” Schuh told the I-Team last year. “The more of these people that pass they (VA) don’t have to pay. And so thus is the case with Dick. If he passes his claim dies.”
As the VA moved forward with their appeal last summer, Staab was moved to a nursing home when his cancer returned. His former lawyer told the I-Team he held onto hope he would be able to eventually prevail at receiving a full refund.
Even after the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims rulings, a VA spokesperson insisted to the I-Team the agency still does not have the power.
“VA is very saddened to learn of Mr. Staab’s death and our hearts are with his family,” VA Spokesperson Randal Noller told the I-team in a statement. “However, per federal law, VA does not have authority to issue any additional payments on Mr. Staab’s claims due to the nature of his remaining medical bills.”
“His passing is a reminder that VA healthcare claims die when a veteran dies,” Schuh told the I-team. “The VA healthcare claims system is a nightmare and the process requires so much time and energy that it is a discriminatory deterrent to veterans. The death of the claim of the veteran too, is an unjust incentive for the VA to stall payment of claims. The entire process needs an overhaul.”
“Mr. Staab was an upstanding man and veteran. We are very appreciative that Mr. Staab entrusted the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) to champion his case on his behalf and thousands of other veterans,” Stichman added. “We continue to fight for veterans like Mr. Staab and are hopeful that justice will prevail.”
Cox Media Group