Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

by
Social Security retirement benefits are calculated using a formula based on past earnings, 42 U.S.C. 415(a)(1)(A). Under the “windfall elimination” provision, benefits are reduced when a retiree receives a separate pension payment based on employment not subject to Social Security taxes. Pension payments exempt from the windfall reduction include those "based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.”A “military technician (dual status),” 10 U.S.C. 10216, is a “civilian employee” assisting the National Guard. Such technicians are required to maintain National Guard membership and must wear uniforms while working. For their work as full-time civilian technicians, they receive civil-service pay. If hired before 1984, they receive Civil Service Retirement System pension payments. As part-time National Guard members, they receive military pay and pension payments from a different arm of the government.The SSA applied the windfall elimination provision to the benefits calculation for Babcock, a dual-status technician. The district court and Sixth Circuit upheld that decision, declining to apply the uniformed-services exception.The Supreme Court affirmed. Civil Service Retirement System pensions generally trigger the windfall provision. Babcock’s technician work was not service “as” a National Guard member. A condition of employment is not the same as the capacity in which one serves. The statute states: “For purposes of this section and any other provision of law,” a technician “is” a “civilian employee,” “authorized and accounted for as” a “civilian.” While working in a civilian capacity, technicians are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. They possess characteristically civilian rights concerning employment discrimination, workers’ compensation, disability benefits, and overtime work; technicians hired before 1984 are “civil service” members, entitled to pensions as civil servants. Babcock’s civil-service pension payments are not based on his National Guard service, for which he received separate military pension payments. View "Babcock v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

by
Breland served in the Army in Vietnam, 1965-1968, and was exposed to Agent Orange. In 2006, Breland was diagnosed with carcinoma of the tongue; he completed his treatments in January 2007. The VA Regional Office denied Breland’s claim for service connection. A January 2008 biopsy revealed the recurrence of Breland’s tongue cancer. He underwent surgery. Breland filed a Notice of Disagreement. In 2010, a VA examiner note Breland’s complaint of continuing dry mouth, found no recurrence of Breland’s cancer, and concluded that the condition was “less likely related” to herbicide exposure. Breland’s claim was again denied.In 2015, Breland submitted a medical opinion tying his tongue cancer to Agent Orange exposure and retroactively granted service connection, with a 100% rating for December 2006-August 2007, and a non-compensable rating, based on Breland’s inactive disease. Following a September 2017 VA examination, the Regional Office granted service connection for certain residual conditions and determined that a 100% rating for Breland’s tongue cancer was warranted retroactively for an additional eight-month period. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals and Federal Circuit upheld those determinations. Diagnostic Code 7343 does not require the VA to continue a 100% disability rating until it performs a “mandatory VA examination” six months following treatment when the disability rating is assigned retroactively after the six-month period has passed. Breland has been and is fairly compensated based on the actual state of his health. View "Breland v. McDonough" on Justia Law

by
Under a 2014 policy, United pilots only accrued sick time during the first 90 days of military leave. Moss, a pilot and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves, sued, alleging violations of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4301, which requires employers to provide employees on military leave any seniority-based benefit the employee would have accrued but for the military leave. He claimed that sick time is a seniority-based benefit that should have continuously accrued or sick-time accrual was available to pilots on comparable periods of leave.The district court granted United summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. For a benefit to be seniority-based, the benefit must be a reward for length of service. Sick leave is not such a reward but is "a future-oriented longevity incentive." United’s sick-time accrual policy contains a work requirement and is in the nature of compensation, not a reward for long service. . View "Moss v. United Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Scholz was honorably discharged following her 2006-2008 Army tour of duty in Iraq but the mental and physical toll of her service continued. Scholz required a range of medical treatments. Scholz sought two courses of inpatient mental health treatment at the Tomah VA Medical Center in 2011. Later, while receiving outpatient mental health treatment through the Tomah VAMC, she consulted surgeons at the Zablocki VA Medical Center about elective breast reduction surgery. An unrelated psychological assessment performed at Zablocki VAMC raised concerns about Scholz’s mental health. Zablocki VAMC surgeons performed elective breast reduction surgery in 2012, igniting multiple complications. Scholz continued to receive outpatient mental health treatment, including prescription medications, from various VA providers through late 2018.Scholz has two lawsuits pending against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), 2671–2680. The government argued that the second suit on the same, or essentially the same, operative facts, was precluded on claim-splitting grounds. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Scholz’s theory amounts to “arbitrarily splitting the treatment timeline.” In both suits, she mentions her treatment for mental health issues, her breast reduction surgery, the unsafe prescribing of medications, and improper record handling. Both suits arise out of Scholz’s treatment at various VA locations in 2011-2018 and mention the same alleged incidents. View "Scholz v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Philbrook served in the Army, 2000-2004, then was awarded disability compensation for PTSD. In 2011, Philbrook stipulated to a judgment of “guilty except for insanity” in connection with a felony. He was ordered into the custody of the Oregon State Hospital “under the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric Security Review Board . . . for care, custody, and treatment for a maximum period not to exceed 20 years.” Philbrook then applied for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU).A VA regional office concluded that Philbrook’s PTSD did not entitle him to TDIU because it did not preclude gainful employment. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals denied TDIU “as a matter of law”; 38 U.S.C. 5313(c), precludes the assignment of a TDIU rating for any period “during which the veteran is incarcerated in a Federal, State, local, or other penal institution or correctional facility for conviction of a felony.” The Veterans Court affirmed.The Federal Circuit reversed. Philbrook was not confined in a “penal institution or correctional facility”; he was committed to a mental institution, “a hospital for people with mental or emotional problems.” The term “correctional facility” cannot encompass a hospital that treats civil patients, and a hospital cannot be a correctional facility for some patients and not others. View "Philbrook v. McDonough" on Justia Law

by
A United States military court-martial convicted Petitioner-Appellant Clint Lorance of murder (and a variety of lesser offenses) for actions he took while leading a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan. After exhausting his direct appeals, Lorance filed a federal habeas petition challenging his convictions. Lorance appealed the district court’s dismissal of that petition. The sole issue, and a matter of first impression for the Tenth Circuit's consideration was whether Lorance’s acceptance of a full and unconditional presidential pardon constituted a legal confession of guilt and a waiver of his habeas rights, thus rendering his case moot. The Court concluded Lorance’s acceptance of the pardon did not have the legal effect of a confession of guilt and did not constitute a waiver of his habeas rights. Despite Lorance’s release from custody pursuant to the pardon, he sufficiently alleged ongoing collateral consequences from his convictions, creating a genuine case or controversy and rendering his habeas petition not moot. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Lorance v. Commandant" on Justia Law

by
Larson served on active duty for training in the Navy Reserves in 1988 and on active duty in the Navy, 1989-1993. He gained a substantial amount of weight before, during, and after his active service. In 2009, Larson filed a claim for service connection for multiple conditions, including obesity and dysmetabolic syndrome (DMS). The VA denied the claims in 2010. The Board affirmed that denial in 2016, holding that neither DMS nor obesity was a disability because neither condition is ratable under the VA Schedule of Rating Disabilities. The Veterans Court affirmed the denial of service connection for DMS and obesity, holding that it lacked jurisdiction to review a Board determination of what constitutes a disability under 38 U.S.C. 1110 because such inquiry amounted to a review of the rating schedule, prohibited by 38 U.S.C. 7252(b).The Federal Circuit reversed, noting that it has previously held that the Veterans Court has jurisdiction to review a Board determination that a claimed condition did not constitute a disability for purposes of section 1110. Larson seeks only to establish a service connection for his conditions and is not asking the Veterans Court to invalidate or revise any portion of the rating schedule. View "Larson v. McDonough" on Justia Law

by
Miriyeva, a citizen of Azerbaijan, lawfully entered the U.S. and sought naturalization under 8 U.S.C. 1440. She enlisted in the U.S. Army through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, under which noncitizens have an expedited path to citizenship by serving honorably in the military without first having lawful permanent residence. In 2018, USCIS approved Miriyeva’s application. Before the agency scheduled Miriyeva’s oath of citizenship ceremony, the Army sent her to basic training. During training, a medical condition ended her service. The Army described Miriyeva’s separation as “uncharacterized” since her service ended while she was still at “entry-level.” After her medical discharge, Miriyeva scheduled her oath ceremony but the agency reversed its approval of her naturalization application because the military did not describe her separation as “honorable.”Miriyeva argued that the military refers to “uncharacterized” as “separated under honorable conditions,” when required to do so and that the Army’s policy of treating an uncharacterized separation as not under honorable conditions violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the Constitution’s Uniform Rule of Naturalization Clause, and the Due Process Clause. The district court dismissed Miriyeva’s declaratory judgment suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under 8 U.S.C. 1421(c), which precluded Miriyeva’s Administrative Procedure Act and constitutional claims; her Declaratory Judgment Act claim failed without a different, standalone source of jurisdiction. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. Miriyeva strayed from the statutory path for judicial review of claims intertwined with denied naturalization applications. View "Miriyeva v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services" on Justia Law

by
In 1982, while serving in the Air Force in Germany, Jones was struck in the eye by the door of an armored personnel carrier. He developed intense headaches; it became increasingly difficult for Jones to perform his duties. A 1988 Clinical Resume reflects that Jones had developed “intermittent right cranial nerve 4th palsy associated with chronic right retro-orbital stabbing pain, usually occurring during the late afternoon or night.” Jones described "a nearly constant headache which was relieved only with repetitive doses of intramuscular Demoral.” A Physical Evaluation Board recommended that Jones be discharged with severance pay based on a 10% disability rating for “Post-traumatic pain syndrome manifest[ing] as headaches.”Jones was honorably discharged with severance pay. In 1989, his discharge was amended to reflect that his injury was combat-related. Effective in 2017, the VA awarded Jones a 100% disability rating. Jones petitioned the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records for changes to his record that would entitle him to a disability retirement dating back to 1988, when he was discharged, 10 U.S.C. 1201. The Board denied Jones’s petition. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court: the claim for disability retirement pay and benefits was a claim under a money-mandating statute, as required by the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1), but jurisdiction was lacking because the claim was barred by the six-year statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. 2501. View "Jones v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In 1982, a court-martial convicted Hubbard of murder and sentenced him to life in prison. He previously filed unsuccessful federal habeas petitions and, in 2019, sought DNA testing under the Innocence Protection Act (IPA), 18 U.S.C. 3600(a), to prove his innocence.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court was not the court that entered the judgment of conviction; Hubbard’s conviction was entered by a general court-martial, which has since dissolved, not in federal court. The court rejected Hubbard’s contentions that the district court had the power to grant his petition for DNA testing under the IPA or that the IPA should nonetheless be construed to allow him to petition for DNA testing in the district court because he would otherwise have no forum in which to seek his relief. The IPA, unlike the federal habeas statutes, does not provide a procedural mechanism for prisoners convicted by courts-martial to seek collateral relief in federal court. View "Hubbard v. United States" on Justia Law