Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

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In this case, defendant Charles Yeager-Reiman, a veteran, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor grand theft in connection with fraudulent activities related to veterans' benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Yeager-Reiman appealed his conviction, arguing that his prosecution was preempted by federal law, as his offenses concerned the theft of benefits from the VA.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Five disagreed with Yeager-Reiman's contention, and affirmed the lower court's judgement. The court ruled that federal preemption did not apply in this case. While federal law establishes the guidelines and regulations for VA benefits, it does not prohibit state-level criminal prosecutions for fraudulent activities related to these benefits.In terms of field preemption, the court determined that the provisions of the federal law did not indicate an intent by Congress to occupy the field of criminal prosecution of veterans in connection with the theft of VA benefits. As for obstacle preemption, the court found that allowing state-level prosecutions for theft of VA benefits actually promotes Congress's purpose of aiding veterans by preserving funds for veterans' benefits through deterrence.Therefore, the court concluded that neither field preemption nor obstacle preemption deprived the trial court of jurisdiction to hear Yeager-Reiman's case. View "People v. Yeager-Reiman" on Justia Law

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A veteran, Robert Stinson, appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, challenging the decision made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The lower court affirmed the Board of Veterans’ Appeals’ denial of Mr. Stinson’s request for service connection for his blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Mr. Stinson argued that the Veterans Court improperly found facts in the first instance when reviewing the Board’s decision and also argued that the Veterans Court incorrectly applied the doctrine of issue exhaustion.The Federal Circuit found that the Veterans Court exceeded its statutory authority by finding facts and weighing evidence in the first instance. Specifically, the Veterans Court determined that Mr. Stinson's in-service symptoms and the location of the lesion giving rise to his BPDCN diagnosis were not relevant to his claim for service connection. The Federal Circuit held that the Veterans Court's conclusion required impermissible factual determinations.The Federal Circuit vacated the decision of the Veterans Court and remanded the case. On remand, the Veterans Court was instructed to remand the case to the Board for further factual development, including whether Mr. Stinson’s in-service symptoms support a manifestation of BPDCN earlier than 2011. This decision serves as a reminder to the Veterans Court to refrain from making factual determinations in the first instance and to focus on reviewing the Board's factual determinations. View "STINSON v. MCDONOUGH " on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a class-action lawsuit brought by Simon A. Soto, a retired Marine Corps member, against the United States government. The dispute concerned the application of a six-year statute of limitations under the Barring Act (31 U.S.C. § 3702) to claims for unpaid combat-related special compensation (CRSC) under 10 U.S.C. § 1413a. Soto argued that the Barring Act's limitations did not apply to CRSC claims. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas agreed with Soto, leading the government to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.The appellate court reversed the lower court's decision, ruling that the Barring Act's six-year statute of limitations applies to CRSC settlement claims. The court reasoned that the CRSC statute does not provide its own settlement mechanism, so these claims are subject to the Barring Act's settlement procedures, including its six-year statute of limitations. The court also rejected Soto's argument that the statute of limitations should be tolled due to the continuous state of war since 1990, stating that this provision only applies to service members on active duty during times of war. The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the appellate court's opinion. View "SOTO v. US " on Justia Law

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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Vincent Curtis Conyers, an army veteran, sought employment benefits under the Veteran Readiness and Employment program, which is administered by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. His application was denied by the VA, and this denial was subsequently upheld by the Board of Veterans' Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. During his appeal, Mr. Conyers requested that certain documents be added to the administrative record under the doctrine of constructive possession. The Veterans Court denied his request, reasoning that the documents did not have a "direct relationship" to his claim, a standard of review that the court derived from a previous decision in Euzebio v. Wilkie.However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the Veterans Court applied an erroneous legal standard in its review of the doctrine of constructive possession. The Federal Circuit stated that the correct standard for constructive possession is one of "relevance and reasonableness," not the "direct relationship" standard applied by the Veterans Court. The Federal Circuit noted that its standard aligns with the VA's statutory duty to assist veterans in substantiating their claims and ensures that all record documents reasonably expected to be part of a veteran’s claim are included in the administrative record. Therefore, the court vacated the decision of the Veterans Court and remanded it for further proceedings, with the instruction to apply the correct standard of "relevance and reasonableness" in its review of the doctrine of constructive possession. View "CONYERS v. MCDONOUGH " on Justia Law

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In this case, the petitioner, Samuel Drinkert, appealed the denial of his application for a writ of habeas corpus by the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. Drinkert contested his convictions for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice which he received via a court martial. He argued that the military courts improperly admitted prior consistent statements made by one of his alleged sexual-assault victims. These convictions arose from two separate incidents involving two victims - his brother's ex-girlfriend and a co-worker.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The Court focused on whether the military courts had given fair consideration to each of Drinkert's claims. The Court held that Drinkert had not shown that the military courts had failed to apply the proper legal standards or that they had failed to give adequate consideration to the issues involved. The Court determined that Drinkert's claims were thoroughly briefed and addressed by the military courts, therefore satisfying the requirement of 'full and fair consideration'. The Court also found that any error asserted by Drinkert was not of substantial constitutional dimension, the issue was not one of pure law, and no military considerations warranted a different treatment of the constitutional claims. Thus, the Court concluded that Drinkert was not entitled to habeas review in civil courts. View "Drinkert v. Payne" on Justia Law

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In 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the disorderly conduct convictions of Jamison Krahenbuhl, an Air Force veteran. Krahenbuhl had been convicted following an incident at the Milo C. Huempfner Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Green Bay, Wisconsin. During a respiratory therapy appointment, Krahenbuhl became agitated and engaged in abusive language and disruptive behavior that led to the clinic staff summoning VA police. He was subsequently charged with two counts of disorderly conduct under 38 C.F.R. § 1.218(a)(5), (b)(11) and was found guilty on both counts.On appeal, Krahenbuhl argued that his convictions violated his First Amendment rights, and that the government failed to prove all the elements of the crimes. The appellate court, however, disagreed. It determined that the clinic was a nonpublic forum, where greater regulation of speech is permissible. The court found that the regulation under which Krahenbuhl was convicted was viewpoint neutral and reasonable, given the clinic's primary aim of providing medical care to veterans. The court also rejected Krahenbuhl's argument that the government failed to prove that the clinic was under the charge and control of the VA and not under the charge and control of the General Services Administration, finding that this was an invited error. Consequently, Krahenbuhl's convictions were affirmed. View "USA v. Krahenbuhl" on Justia Law

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Bell served on active duty from 1952-1954 in the Army, and from 1955-1957 in the Air Force. During service, Bell sustained a lower back injury. Years later Bell filed a VA claim for entitlement to service connection for a lumbar spine disability and received a 20% disability rating, effective March 2017. In a December 2019 internal memorandum, the agency requested an administrative review by the Director of Compensation Service on the issue of entitlement to an extra-schedular rating for Bell’s lumbar spine disability under 38 C.F.R. 3.321(b)(1); the agency recommended denying entitlement to an extra-schedular rating. The Director issued an advisory opinion denying entitlement, finding that the “lumbar spine disability picture does not demonstrate an unusual or exceptional disability pattern that would render application of the regular rating criteria impractical.” The regional office denied entitlement to an extra-schedular disability evaluation.The Board of Veterans’ Appeals the Veterans Court, and the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision. Bell “d[id] not present any argument, under any applicable authority,” why the denial should be reversed. The regulation authorizing the Director of Compensation Service to approve an extra-schedular rating does not prohibit the Director from considering recommendations from agency officials before making this decision. View "Bell v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Appellant Watkins Law & Advocacy, PLLC, submitted requests under the Freedom of Information Act to various federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Watkins sought records concerning the process by which the names of certain veterans and other VA beneficiaries are added to a background check system that identifies persons barred from possessing firearms for having been adjudicated as “mental defective[s].” Watkins initiated this FOIA action in the district court. The district court granted summary judgment to the agencies on almost all claims (and to Watkins on the remaining claims, none of which are at issue here). Watkins appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the FBI and DOJ on the adequacy of their searches and to the VA on its withholding of documents based on the deliberative process and attorney-client privileges.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the FBI and DOJ. But we vacate the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the VA and remand for further proceedings. The VA did not satisfy its burden to show that the withheld documents are exempt from disclosure. The court concluded that the VA failed to adequately set out its basis for asserting the deliberative process and attorney-client privileges as to the withheld documents. The court wrote that because the VA offers no arguments about specific documents other than the eight that Watkins highlighted as illustrations, a blanket remand is appropriate. View "Watkins Law & Advocacy, PLLC v. DOJ" on Justia Law

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Bufkin served in the Air Force from 2005-2006. In 2013, he sought service connection for an acquired psychiatric disorder. VA medical records reflected his visits with a VA psychiatrist, who wrote that he met the criteria for PTSD but did not identify the specific stressor or whether the stressor related to Bufkin’s military service. The VA scheduled an examination with a VA psychiatrist, who opined that his “symptoms do not meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.” Bufkin filed a notice of disagreement, arguing that the favorable opinion and the unfavorable opinion were in equipoise, and therefore, VA was legally obligated to grant service connection. Bufkin underwent another VA examination with another examiner, who concluded that his symptoms did not meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. The VA continued its denial of service connection. While his appeal was pending, another VA psychiatrist opined that in addition to a severe anxiety disorder, Bufkin “suffers from chronic PTSD.”The Board of Appeals denied service connection, finding that the preponderance of evidence supported a finding that Bufkin does not have PTSD. The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed. There was no error in the Board’s application of the benefit of the doubt rule, 38 U.S.C. 5107(b): “[w]hen there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence” the Secretary “shall give the benefit of the doubt to the claimant.” The Board considered conflicting medical statements but found that the rule did not apply. View "Bufkin v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Cavaciuti served in the Army, 1965-1967. In 2020, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals granted him entitlement to a total disability rating due to individual unemployability (TDIU) and directed the VA to assign him an effective date. The VA nonetheless denied Cavaciuti’s claim, finding that he was capable of gainful employment. Cavaciuti sought a writ of mandamus. After negotiations, the VA informed the Veterans Court that it had granted Cavaciuti entitlement to TDIU with a 2008 effective date. Cavaciuti argued that the case was not moot because the RO had not invalidated its erroneous rating decision and that the VA misused confidential settlement information to render the case moot.The court dismissed Cavaciuti’s petition as moot because the VA had provided him with the relief that he sought. Cavaciuti sought attorney fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The Veterans Court denied the application, finding that Cavaciuti did not satisfy the criterion for prevailing party status because the dismissal order did not award benefits, change the parties’ legal relationship, or otherwise address the merits of Cavaciuti’s writ petition. The Federal Circuit affirmed. There was no judicial change in the parties' legal relationship. The VA implemented the Board’s decision, as Cavaciuti requested, following a settlement rather than based on any court order. The fact that the government’s representations would prevent future changes does not render the dismissal a judicial imprimatur sufficient to make Cavaciuti the prevailing party. View "Cavaciuti v. McDonough" on Justia Law