Supreme Court denies disabled veterans compensation in its first ruling of the term.

  
Via:  Ender  •  one week ago  •  28 comments

By:   Mark Joseph Stern

Supreme Court denies disabled veterans compensation in its first ruling of the term.
Why did the liberals co-sign Justice Amy Coney Barrett's harsh opinion?

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After an unusual delay, the Supreme Court finally issued its first opinion of the term on Monday: a unanimous decision in Arellano v. McDonough siding against disabled veterans who seek compensation for disabilities related to their service. Justice Amy Coney Barrett's opinion for the court denied these veterans (and their survivors) the ability to obtain benefits retroactively if they filed a late claim—even if the delay occurred because of their disability, or some other factor beyond their control. It's a painful blow to military members who were injured while serving their country, and a puzzling one: At oral arguments, the justices sounded divided, yet all three liberals lined up behind Barrett's harsh opinion. Maybe they genuinely believed that Congress intended to impose an exceedingly stringent deadline on disabled veterans. Or perhaps the three-justice minority is so outnumbered that it has decided to pick its battles, and Arellano was not worth the fight.

The facts of the case deserve more attention than Barrett gave them. Adolfo Arellano served in the Navy from 1977 until he was honorably discharged in 1981. During his service, he worked on an aircraft carrier that collided with a freighter in the Persian Gulf. Arellano was nearly swept overboard, and he saw his shipmates get crushed to death. After this incident, he began showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and tardive dyskinesia. These conditions rendered him severely disabled and incapacitated, and ever since, his brother has served as his legal guardian and caregiver.

Because of his incapacitation, Arellano did not understand that he qualified for disability compensation. His brother did not find out until 2011, at which point he filed a claim on Arellano's behalf, asking for retroactive benefits for the previous 30 years. The Department of Veterans Affairs granted compensation moving forward, but denied compensation for the past three decades. It said that federal law allows retroactive compensation only if service members file "within one year of discharge," which Arellano did not.

But that law wasn't the end of the story. The Supreme Court has long held that statutes of limitation are subject to a presumption of "equitable tolling." That just means a deadline can be suspended when some "extraordinary circumstance" prevented a party from raising their claim on time. The doctrine reaches back to the founding era and has always served as a "background principle" whenever Congress drafts statutes of limitations. It does not apply, however, when ignoring a deadline would be "inconsistent with statutory text."

There are several very good reasons why equitable tolling should apply here. First, the Supreme Court has said that "interpretive doubt" must be read in favor of veterans; as Justice Antonin Scalia once noted, this rule is "more like a fist than a thumb" on the scale, "as it should be." Second, the broader statute expresses special solicitude toward veterans as they navigate a bureaucratic maze in search of their rightful benefits—precisely the context in which equitable tolling would normally apply.

Third, there are practical reasons to suspend the deadline here. Many service members were subject to excruciating and unethical chemical testing, most notoriously at the Edgewood Arsenal from 1955 to 1975, then threatened with criminal charges if they disclosed their experience. Victims of this military-administered torture did not file claims for compensation within a year for fear of prosecution. In 2006, the government declared it would not prosecute Edgewood victims for acknowledging their abuse. But by that time, the one-year deadline for retroactive compensation claims had long since passed.

Finally, even outside these devastating cases, there are plenty of reasons why veterans and their survivors are prevented from filing within a year of discharge. Some, like Arellano, have psychiatric disorders that prevent them from pursuing a claim. Others suffer disabilities that do not present themselves until more than one year after service. And still more get shafted by bureaucratic blunders: One survivor, for instance, filed a claim on time but was falsely told by the VA that she was too young to qualify. Years later, she realized the VA was wrong and filed a claim for retroactive compensation. The VA rejected it because the one-year deadline had passed.

This stringent interpretation of the law has tragic consequences. Service members and their survivors are denied years' or decades' worth of compensation because problems outside their control prevented them from filing promptly. For that reason, multiple veterans' groups urged the Supreme Court to suspend the one-year deadline when fairness requires it—a coalition that included Disabled American Veterans, National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

But SCOTUS refused, siding against Arellano's request for equitable tolling. Why? Barrett, a former civil procedure professor, ignored the principle of solicitude toward veterans in favor of a wooden analysis of the "statutory scheme." She focused on the fact that federal law includes 16 explicit exceptions to the general rule that veterans can't get retroactive compensation—and equitable tolling isn't one of them. "The presence of this detailed, lengthy list," Barrett wrote, "raises the inference that the enumerated exceptions are exclusive." Put differently, it is "difficult to see" why Congress "spelled out a long list" if it did not want the list to be comprehensive.

As Chief Justice John Roberts noted at oral arguments, though, this list of exceptions could cut both ways. It might suggest "that the insistence upon strict enforcement is really not that important." Rather, Roberts said, "the plethora of exceptions seems to me to make it more likely that you ought to stick with the normal rule" of equitable tolling. When Congress creates so many other exceptions to the deadline, Roberts continued, how does it "make any sense" to say the "one area" where equitable principles won't apply "is service-connected disabilities?" This argument carried great weight given that, as deputy solicitor general, Roberts argued and won the foundational case on this topic. As a matter of common sense, it's also a strong counterpoint to Barrett's logic: Shouldn't the presence of so many exceptions indicate that Congress did not want rigid enforcement of the one-year deadline?

Yet Roberts signed onto Barrett's opinion in favor of the VA. So did every other justice—including Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, all of whom sounded skeptical of the VA's position during oral arguments. For all we know, they ultimately decided that Barrett got it right, and that Congress intended to subject veterans like Arellano to its harsh deadline. It's also possible that the term is filled with so many contentious cases already that no justice wanted to eat up her time writing a dissent in a relatively minor case when the outcome was inevitable anyway. After all, the ongoing backlog of opinions indicates that the justices are taking an unusually long time to write—possibly because of extensive disagreements and bad blood behind the scenes.

If that's the reason for the unanimity in Arellano, it's a shame. A seemingly small case like this one can make a huge difference in the lives of real people. Disabled veterans deserved a fairer shake than they received from this court.


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Ender
Professor Principal
1  seeder  Ender    one week ago

I have never been in the services so I don't know how it all works.

I just don't see why people are not taken care of all along.

 
 
 
Jeremy Retired in NC
Professor Expert
1.1  Jeremy Retired in NC  replied to  Ender @1    6 days ago
I just don't see why people are not taken care of all along.

Veterans have been shit on by the government for far too long.  It's no secret.  Even a cursory look at the VA system is enough proof of that.  

They'll send us off to fight without hesitation then turn around and shit on us upon our return and attempt to get what benefits we are owed.  

And people wonder why recruitment is such a problem.  The younger generations see how Vets are treated and want no part of it.

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
Professor Participates
1.2  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Ender @1    5 days ago

I was in for 23 years and I know how it works.  This plain pisses me off.  They may have to bring the draft back because few young men and women want to join voluntarily these days, especially when they learn of bs like this.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2  Kavika     6 days ago

I sure don't understand this decision by SCOTUS, being a vet with a disabled Marine son I've had to fight the VA on more than one occasion.

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
2.1  seeder  Ender  replied to  Kavika @2    6 days ago

It seems to me that people, especially ones that served for a long time, should be signed up immediately or automatically.

The have to go and sign up and all this other bullshit seems to be a waste of time.

It is not like they don't know who the people are.

 
 
 
Dismayed Patriot
Professor Participates
2.2  Dismayed Patriot  replied to  Kavika @2    6 days ago

I understand that they have to have some rules and time limits for filing for benefits and approving a filing that wasn't filed for nearly 30 years seems unwarranted. However, having to file within 1 year of discharge seems inadequate as well so there needs to be some changes to extend that to something more reasonable, perhaps 10 or 15 years since there are many health issues that may not be readily apparent that can surface years after the cause such as the lung disease and cancers linked to the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 20 years.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.2.1  Kavika   replied to  Dismayed Patriot @2.2    6 days ago
needs to be some changes to extend that to something more reasonable, perhaps 10 or 15 years since there are many health issues that may not be readily apparent that can surface years after the cause such as the lung disease and cancers linked to the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 20 years.

The biggest Veterans Admin fuck up/cover-up was ''Agent Orange''...

I totally agree, one year is simply not realistic.

 
 
 
Sparty On
Professor Principal
2.2.2  Sparty On  replied to  Kavika @2.2.1    6 days ago

Yep, sounds like a very poorly thought out ruling.    Somehow I think some bureaucrat at the VA has their paws all over this as well.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.3  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Kavika @2    5 days ago

As I see it, the SCOTUS has made it pretty clear that Americans should think twice before signing up to the military.  

 
 
 
bbl-1
Professor Quiet
3  bbl-1    6 days ago

It is said that 'the military' generally votes GOP.  Well, I guess this is the reason why, right?

As far as conservatives, there it is, there you have it..

 
 
 
Greg Jones
Professor Guide
3.1  Greg Jones  replied to  bbl-1 @3    6 days ago

How does that explain the lib judges opinions?

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
3.1.1  devangelical  replied to  Greg Jones @3.1    6 days ago

why would it matter in a 6-3 court? conservative court, conservative opinion. own it.

 
 
 
Ronin2
Professor Quiet
3.1.2  Ronin2  replied to  devangelical @3.1.1    6 days ago

To show the libs are different than the conservatives? 

Instead they show they are exactly the same in this instance.

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
3.2.1  seeder  Ender  replied to  Split Personality @3.2    6 days ago
95% of Americans believe it’s the duty of government to support veterans when they return to the homefront

Who are these five percent that would leave them without care...

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
Professor Participates
3.2.2  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Ender @3.2.1    5 days ago

Repubicans.

 
 
 
freepress
Freshman Silent
4  freepress    6 days ago

So much for the "support our troops" conservatives, using the "troops" as political props when it's convenient and then ruling against them. Republicans voted against help for veterans with burn pit exposure while serving their country. Republicans voted against 9/11 responders. They just don't care and they now openly show their hypocrisy knowing that it no longer matters as long as their base keeps voting them in office to fail our veterans.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Sophomore Principal
4.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  freepress @4    6 days ago
So much for the "support our troops" conservatives, using the "troops" as political props when it's convenient and then ruling against them.

Which members of SCOTUS use troops as props?

Federal statute, 38 U.S.C. § 5110(b)(1), says that to receive retroactive benefits, a veteran must file a claim within a year of being discharged. 

Section 5110(a)(1), states that “the effective date” of veterans benefits “shall be fixed in accordance with the facts found, but shall not be earlier than the date of receipt of application … unless specifically provided otherwise.” By setting out 16 exceptions to this rule (including the one-year window in which veterans can seek retroactive benefits), “Congress did not throw the door wide open” to allow equitable tolling, Barrett wrote. Rather, Congress considered fairness in constructing the statutory scheme by adding various exceptions. Barrett noted that equitable tolling was not one of the 16 exceptions.

The court also looked to United States v. Brockamp, in which a statute with an explicit list of exceptions indicated that Congress did not intend for the courts to add additional equitable exceptions. Because Congress accounted for many different equitable factors in its exceptions, it would not expect the VA to add more equitable factors in its decision-making. 

 
 
 
Split Personality
Professor Principal
4.1.1  Split Personality  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @4.1    5 days ago

The one year limit should be changed to something which incorporates the VA efficiency rate as determined by a third party.

The VA has an institutional history of denying valid claims (Agent Orange, PTSD, oil fire or burn pit syndrome)

I understand that this vet was granted coverage going forward when they applied correctly.

Going back 30 years?  Not buying it.

Congress can change the limit or modify the exceptions to include equitable tolling for the next case.

Start a go fund me and I will gladly pitch in for Arellano.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Sophomore Principal
4.1.2  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Split Personality @4.1.1    5 days ago
The one year limit should be changed to something which incorporates the VA efficiency rate as determined by a third party.

Tell that to Congress and the President, not SCOTUS.

 
 
 
Split Personality
Professor Principal
4.1.3  Split Personality  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @4.1.2    5 days ago

I didn't address SCOTUS, but I did address Congress.

 
 
 
Right Down the Center
Sophomore Guide
5  Right Down the Center    6 days ago

The solution is that Congress changes the law.  If The supreme court is not interpreting the law the way Congress intends then it should, and can be changed.  It is not up to the Supreme court to change the law to fit what they would like to see only interpret it as it is written.  It seems some people loose sight of that fact.

 
 
 
Sean Treacy
Professor Expert
5.1  Sean Treacy  replied to  Right Down the Center @5    5 days ago

Most people have no idea that’s how our government is supposed to work. They think the court writes laws.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Sophomore Principal
5.1.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Sean Treacy @5.1    5 days ago

No time available on the school calendar for civics classes.

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
6  devangelical    6 days ago

meh, I'd feel a lot better knowing that little mackerel snapper ACB was doing the backstroke for multiple laps in the sand at Gitmo for a few years...

 
 
 
Sean Treacy
Professor Expert
7  Sean Treacy    5 days ago

Oh those damn republicans forcing liberal justices to apply a law as written by a democratic congress .   

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Sophomore Principal
8  Drinker of the Wry    5 days ago

[deleted]

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
9  seeder  Ender    5 days ago

I have to say, thinking about this...If someone like him had been signed up and been having regular and maybe preventative care, no one would be in this position...

I am a proponent of healthcare for all yet the VA sometimes makes me want to rethink my position...

 
 

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