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Manzanares served on active duty, 1986-1991. In 1992, she was awarded service connection for a history of stress fractures in both legs, with a non-compensable rating. In 2006, she sought an increased rating. The VA assigned a 10-percent rating for each ankle, with a February 2006 effective date. Manzanares filed a notice of disagreement and claimed: “[e]ntitlement to service connection for degenerative disc disease lumbar spine as secondary to bilateral ankle disabilities.” The VA granted secondary service connection for “degenerative arthritis and disc disease, lumbar spine” with a rating of 20 percent and an April 2007 effective date. Manzanares argued that the VA should have awarded a February 2006 effective date for the secondary service-connected condition, citing 38 C.F.R. 3.156(b), which provides that, for a pending claim, “[n]ew and material evidence received prior to the expiration of the appeal period . . . will be considered as having been filed in connection with the claim which was pending at the beginning of the appeal period.” The Board of Veterans’ Appeals, Veterans Court, and Federal Circuit rejected her argument. The effective date for service connection is the later of the date the VA receives the claim or the date that entitlement arose; Manzanares’s secondary service claim was not filed until April 2007 and was not part of the ankle claim. View "Manzanares v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Wells Fargo, alleging that the foreclosure sale of his house was invalid under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), 50 U.S.C. 3953(a), 3953(c), which requires a lender to obtain a court order before foreclosing on or selling property owned by a current or recent servicemember where the mortgage obligation "originated before the period of the servicemember's military service." The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Wells Fargo, holding that plaintiff's mortgage obligation originated when he was in the Navy, it was not a protected obligation under section 3953(a), and his later enlistment in the Army did not change that status to afford protection retroactively. View "Sibert v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Johnson served in the Army, 1970-1971. In 2008, the VA granted Johnson a 30% rating for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a 10% rating for tinea corporis, a skin condition which Johnson described as jungle rot under Diagnostic Code (DC) 7806. The Board of Veterans Appeals increased his PTSD rating to 70% and remanded with respect to his skin condition. After several rounds of review, the Board denied Johnson’s request for an increased rating for tinea corporis in 2014, finding that Johnson’s skin condition affected only a limited area of his body, and his topical corticosteroid treatment of that area did not qualify as a “systemic therapy” under DC 7806. The Veterans Court held that DC 7806 unambiguously defines a topical corticosteroid treatment as “systemic therapy” rather than “topical therapy.” The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that the Veterans Court gave an overly broad reading of the term “systemic therapy” in DC 7806 that encompasses any and all forms of topical corticosteroid treatment. The court noted that Johnson did not challenge factual findings that his use of topical corticosteroids affected only the area to which he applied treatment and did not affect his body as a whole, and reinstated the Board’s findings. View "Johnson v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

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After their three-year-old adopted son died, U.S. Army Major John Jackson and his wife, Carolyn, were convicted of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child and endangering the welfare of a child. The New Jersey law offenses were “assimilated” into federal law under the Assimilative Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 13(a), which “borrows” state laws to fill gaps in federal law for crimes committed on federal enclaves. The Jacksons’ crimes occurred within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. (Picatinny Arsenal Installation). Using the offense guidelines for assault, U.S.S.G. 2A2.3, and aggravated assault, U.S.S.G. 2A2.2, the Probation Office calculated both defendants’ Guidelines range as 210-262 months. The government calculated a range of 292-365 months. The court declined to calculate the applicable sentencing ranges under the U.S.S.G., reasoning that there was no “sufficiently analogous” offense guideline, sentenced Carolyn to 24 months of imprisonment plus supervised release, and sentenced John to three years of probation plus community service and a fine. The Third Circuit vacated the sentences, adopting an “elements-based” approach, but concluding that the assault guideline is “sufficiently analogous” to the Jacksons’ offenses. The district court failed to make the requisite findings with respect to the Guidelines calculation and the statutory sentencing factors. While the court could consider what would happen if the Jacksons had been prosecuted in state court, it focused on state sentencing practices to the exclusion of federal sentencing principles. The sentences were substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment stating that their family members were killed in the course of a U.S. drone attack in violation of international law governing the use of force, the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), and the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). The district court dismissed the claims primarily based on political question grounds. The DC Circuit affirmed and held that it was not the role of the Judiciary to second-guess the determination of the Executive, in coordination with the Legislature, that the interests of the U.S. called for a particular military action in the ongoing War on Terror. In this case, El-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries Co. v. United States, 607 F.3d 836 (D.C. Cir. 2010), controlled the court's analysis and compelled dismissal of plaintiffs' claims. View "Bin Ali Jaber v. United States" on Justia Law

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Ground Zero filed suit challenging the Navy's expansion of a TRIDENT nuclear submarine operating center pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. The Ninth Circuit held that the Navy violated NEPA's public disclosure requirement by not revealing that the Safety Board withheld approval of its plan for the construction of a second Explosives Handling Wharf (EHW-2), and by withholding the now-disclosed portions of the appendices to the environmental impact statement (EIS). However, such errors were harmless. In all other respects, the Navy satisfied NEPA's requirements. Therefore, the panel affirmed summary judgment for the Navy. The panel narrowly construed the district court's order restricting Ground Zero's use of portions of the record. Even with this reading, it was not clear that the district court's order comports with the First Amendment. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action v. US Department of the Navy" on Justia Law

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Presumptive service connection exists for veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War and have chronic: undiagnosed illness; medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness (MUCMI); or any diagnosed illness as determined by the Secretary, 38 U.S.C. 1117(a)(2). VA regulations define MUCMI as “a diagnosed illness without conclusive pathophysiology or etiology, that is characterized by overlapping symptoms and signs and has features such as fatigue, pain, disability out of proportion to physical findings, and inconsistent demonstration of laboratory abnormalities. Chronic multisymptom illnesses of partially understood etiology and pathophysiology, such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis, will not be considered medically unexplained.”. Both the statute and regulation identify sleep disturbances and signs or symptoms involving the respiratory system as possible MUCMI manifestations. The VA revised its M21-1 Manual, changing the definition of MUCMI to require “both an inconclusive pathology, and an inconclusive etiology.” Under the subsection “Signs and Symptoms of Undiagnosed Illnesses or MUCMIs,” the VA added, “Sleep apnea cannot be presumptively service-connected (SC) under the provisions of 38 C.F.R. 3.317 since it is a diagnosable condition.” The Federal Circuit dismissed a veterans’ group’s petition for review for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning that the revisions are not binding and not reviewable under 38 U.S.C. 502. View "Disabled American Veterans v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff began his military career in 1983, serving in the Indiana National Guard, the Army, and the Army Reserve. He was a Captain and served in combat in Iraq. In 2007-2011 he sustained several injuries and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He was placed on reserve status while a Physical Evaluation Board evaluated his fitness for continued military service. When retired from the army on grounds of physical disability in 2014, Futrell became eligible for a monthly government pension. Had paperwork been processed, he would have also received incapacitation payments during the gap between his release from duty and his retirement; he received no government payments between December 2011 and January 2013, causing him severe financial and emotional distress. In 2013, the government paid him an amount that covered the incapacitation payments that he should have received, but did not compensate for his distress. He filed suit against under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 2674. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the suit as barred by a Supreme Court holding that the Act is unavailable to a member of the armed forces who “while on active duty and not on furlough, sustained injury due to negligence of others in the armed forces.” The alleged harms all relate to military benefits and were committed by military base staff. That he was on reserve status is irrelevant. View "Futrell v. United States" on Justia Law

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Snyder represented a veteran, Beck, under a 2001 fee agreement (38 U.S.C. 5904). Eight months later, Snyder requested the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to cancel his fee agreement. In 2003 the VA awarded past-due benefits based on a 100% disability rating effective 1992. Snyder sought attorney fees. A VA regional officer (RO) determined that Snyder was entitled to $41,920.47, deductible from the past-due benefits. Beck filed notice of disagreement. Beck died. His widow sought to recover the disputed fees as accrued benefits. The RO denied that request. The Board dismissed Beck’s dispute over attorney fees, citing 38 C.F.R. 20.1302, and remanded Mrs. Beck’s claim. The RO determined Mrs. Beck could not recover the disputed attorney fees because her husband’s claim ceased to exist upon his death. She appealed. The VA’s General Counsel published a precedential opinion stating: A claim, pending at the time of a veteran’s death, challenging an attorney’s entitlement to payment of attorney fees under section 5904 from the veteran’s retroactive periodic monetary benefits may provide a basis for an accrued benefits claim under section 5121, because such a claim concerns entitlement to periodic monetary benefits allegedly due and unpaid to the veteran at the time of death. The Federal Circuit dismissed Snyder’s appeal. That 38 C.F.R. 20.1302 requires dismissal of a veteran’s appeal upon his death has no bearing on a claimant’s separate entitlement to accrued benefits under section 5121. The attorney fee dispute remains pending. View "Snyder v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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The circuit court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the equities favored disinterment of the remains of Chester Howard West, a World War I Medal of Honor recipient, and granting the petition of Hershel Woodrow Williams. Williams filed a petition seeking authorization to disinter West’s remains and bury him with full military honors at the Gold Star Family Memorial Monument located within the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Institute, West Virginia. The circuit court granted the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court had the authority under common law to rule on the question of disinterment of West’s remains, and W. Va. Code 29-1-8a did not preempt the circuit court’s common law jurisdiction; and (2) the equities favored disinterment. View "In re Remains of Chester Howard West" on Justia Law