Last week the United States Supreme Court decided that Veterans’ Courts can use discretion when deciding whether or not to deny an appeal for benefits based on a missed filing deadline. Further, The Court determined that a Federal Circuit court was “improperly harsh” in refusing an appeal from a Korean War veteran suffering from paranoid schizophrenia because he missed his filing deadline.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) gave David Henderson a 100% disability rating in 1992 because he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. A regional VA office and the Board of Veterans Affairs denied his 2001 claim for supplemental disability benefits for in-home care. Henderson attempted to appeal the denial to the Veterans Court but the Court denied it as untimely as Henderson filed his appeal 15 days past his allotted 120-day deadline.
The Court to which Henderson appealed ruled they did not have jurisdiction based on a previous case finding deadlines for filing notices of appeals in civil cases jurisdictional issues. The Supreme Court justices unanimously disagreed.
They went on to hold the VA’s disability benefits program is “unusually protective,” and when appeals do get to the Veterans’ Court, they are granted almost 80% of the time. Clearly then, the initial decisions as to granting veterans’ claims are often flawed. Further, the disability claims process could not be more different than standard civil litigation. Justice Alito described VA benefit hearings and proceedings as “informal and non-advesarial” as opposed to the inherent adversarial nature that accompanies civil litigation.
As to the 120-day time limit, The Court found being too rigid in its enforcement begins to edge toward creating an adversarial environment. That 120-day time limit, then, was never intended to be so absolute so as to completely deny claims for being untimely. The Circuit Court’s ruling was reversed and the case remanded.
If you are a disabled veteran who has been denied disability compensation or have not yet applied for benefits from the VA, contact LaVan & Neidenberg. You may be entitled to certain programs and benefits so contact our veterans disability rights firm today.