by
On September 11, 2012, President Obama published notice “continuing for [one] year the national emergency . . . with respect to the terrorist attacks.” In April 2013, O’Farrell, an Army Reservist, received an order directing him to replace another Reservist, an attorney, who had been deployed. After reaching his maximum total years of active commissioned service (28 years), O’Farrell was transferred to the Army Reserve Retired List in October 2013. O’Farrell served his active duty as legal counsel until September 30, 2013. By August 26, 2013, O’Farrell had used his 15 days of military leave, most of his accrued annual leave, and advance annual leave. To avoid being placed on Military Leave Without Pay for the remainder of his active duty service, O’Farrell (unsuccessfully) requested an additional 22 days leave under 5 U.S.C. 6323(a)(1). O’Farrell did not cite any statutory provision that would qualify him as "called to full-time military service as a result of a call or order to active duty in support of a contingency operation." He argued that he was “serving . . . during a national emergency." O’Farrell sued under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301– 4333. The Federal Circuit reversed. Section 6323(b) does not require that “a specific contingency operation" be identified in military orders when an employee is activated; “in support of” includes indirect assistance to a contingency operation, 5 U.S.C. 6323(b)(2)(B), which includes a military operation that results in service members being called to active duty under any law during a national emergency, 10 U.S.C. 101(a)(13). A service member’s leave request need not use particular language. View "O'Farrell v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law

by
At issue in this case is the scope of the Governor’s responsibilities upon receiving an allegation brought under the California Military Whistleblower Protection Act, Military and Veterans Code section 56 (Section 56), referred by the inspector general. Major Dwight Stirling, a part-time judge advocate in the California National Guard, brought a petition for writ of mandate in the trial court to compel Governor Edmund Brown, Jr. (the Governor) to act on Stirling’s whistleblower allegation in accordance with Section 56, subdivisions (d) and (f)(1). Stirling argued that Section 56(e) required the Governor to undertake the same preliminary determination, investigation, and reporting that was required of the inspector general under Section 56, subdivisions (d) and (f)(1). The Attorney General, representing the Governor, argued Section 56(e) did not require the Governor to take any particular action on a whistleblower allegation and permitted the Governor to defer to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, who was a federal military officer responsible for heading the federal agency that controlled the United States Army National Guard. The trial court sustained without leave to amend the Attorney General’s demurrer to Stirling’s amended petition for writ of mandate. Because the Court of Appeal was reviewing a judgment following an order sustaining a demurrer without leave to amend, its analysis was necessarily limited to the pleadings and matters of which it could take judicial notice. The Court concluded Section 56 was unambiguous, and its plain language did not require the Governor to undertake the procedures required of the inspector general in response to a whistleblower allegation. The Court of Appeal also concluded, based on the appellate record, that Section 56 did not violate California’s equal protection clause because in all cases a whistleblower allegation is referred to an impartial decision maker who has discretion whether to undertake a full investigation. View "Stirling v. Brown" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners, employed by the Office of Air and Marine (OAM), within the Department of Homeland Security, alleged that the agency’s actions and policies violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4301–4335. They were members of the Air Force and Navy Reserves. They subsequently resigned, claiming that they were “forced to quit.” An administrative judge (AJ) rejected Petitioners’ contention that the OAM violated USERRA by failing to grant them waivers from participating in training courses that conflicted with their military service dates, creating a hostile work environment, forcing them to surrender their badges and weapons during military leaves of 30 or more days, delaying within-grade pay increases, and requiring them to use annual, sick, or other leave in lieu of military leave. The AJ found “a legitimate basis for the [Agency’s] security policy,” and an “absence of any evidence that its [weapons] policy was adopted with discriminatory intent.” Allegedly hostile incidents were either “‘unavoidable’ workplace friction” or did not rise to the level of “humiliating,” “physically threatening,” or “so frequent and pervasive” to render their work environment hostile. They later filed a second complaint, alleging constructive discharge. The AJ, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Federal Circuit agreed that the constructive discharge claims were barred by collateral estoppel as “inextricably linked” to their previous hostile work environment claims. The standard for establishing constructive discharge is higher than that for hostile work environment, View "Bryant v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

by
Crediford served with the Coast Guard in 1983-1985 and in 1990-1991. In 1985, he visited the VFW Club after work and drank alcohol, then was in a single-vehicle accident. A breath test registered a blood alcohol level of 0.12 percent, more than three hours later. The police charged him with DUI. Crediford's commanding officer’s report stated that fatigue and alcohol were responsible for the accident and that Crediford’s “injuries were not a result of his own misconduct and were incurred in the line of duty.” The conclusion was approved in an “ACTION OF THE CONVENING AUTHORITY.” In December 1985, the Commander of the Thirteenth Coast Guard District issued a Memorandum, that “approved a finding that injuries … were ‘not incurred in the line of duty and were due to his own misconduct.’” In 2004, Crediford sought compensation for chronic pain due to spinal and soft tissue injury resulting from the accident. The VA Regional Office denied compensation, characterizing the injuries as the result of willful misconduct, not occurring in the line of duty. Crediford argued that the Memorandum was issued “post-discharge, without notice that an investigation was ongoing. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Board erred in making its own findings when there were service department findings before it. VA regulations assign “binding” determination of “willful misconduct” and “line of duty” to the Service Department. The Coast Guard’s determinations, made in 1985, must be addressed. View "Crediford v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

by
Ebanks sought veterans benefits for service-connected posttraumatic stress disorder, hearing loss, and arthritis. His claim for an increased disability rating was denied by the VA Regional Office (RO) in October 2014; in December he sought Board of Veterans Appeals review, with a video-conference hearing (38 U.S.C. 7107). Two years later, the Board had not scheduled a hearing. Ebanks sought a writ of mandamus. The Veterans Court denied relief. While his appeal was pending, the Board held his hearing in October 2017. The Federal Circuit vacated, finding the matter moot so that it lacked jurisdiction. The delay is typical and any Board hearings on remand are subject to expedited treatment under 38 U.S.C. 7112. Congress has recently overhauled the review process for RO decisions, so that veterans may now choose one of three tracks for further review of an RO decision, Given these many contingencies, Ebanks has not shown a sufficiently reasonable expectation that he will again be subjected to the same delays. Even if this case were not moot, the court questioned “the appropriateness of granting individual relief to veterans who claim unreasonable delays in VA’s first-come-first-served queue.” The “issue seems best addressed in the class-action context,.” View "Ebanks v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

by
To receive disability compensation based on service, a veteran must demonstrate that the disability was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, 38 U.S.C. 101(16). Congress has enacted presumptive service connection laws to protect certain veterans who faced exposure to chemical toxins but would find it difficult to prove a “nexus” between their exposure and their disease. Under the Agent Orange Act, 38 U.S.C. 1116, any veteran who served in Vietnam during the Vietnam era and who suffers from any designated disease “shall be presumed to have been exposed during such service” to herbicides. The VA determines which diseases qualify for presumptive service connection and defines service in Vietnam. Absent on-land service, the VA concluded that the statute did not authorize presumptive service connection for veterans serving in the open waters surrounding Vietnam. The Federal Circuit upheld that position in 2007. In 2016, the VA amended its M21-1 procedures manual to also exclude veterans who served in bays, harbors, and ports of Vietnam. The VA did not implement this additional restriction by way of notice and comment regulation as it did its open waters restriction and has not published its view on this issue in the Federal Register. The Federal Circuit rejected a challenge for lack of jurisdiction. The VA’s revisions are not agency actions reviewable under 38 U.S.C. 502. The M21-1 Manual provisions are only binding on Veterans Benefits Administration employees. View "Gray v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

by
TRICARE provides current and former members of the military and their dependents' medical and dental care. Hospitals that provide TRICARE services are reimbursed under Department of Defense (DoD) guidelines. TRICARE previously did not require, DoD to use Medicare reimbursement rules. A 2001 amendment, 10 U.S.C. 1079(j)(2), required TRICARE to use those rules to the extent practicable. DoD regulations noted the complexities of the transition process and the lack of comparable cost report data and stated “it is not practicable” to “adopt Medicare OPPS for hospital outpatient services at this time.” A study, conducted after hospitals complained, determined that DoD underpaid for outpatient radiology but correctly reimbursed other outpatient services. TRICARE created a process for review of radiology payments. Each plaintiff-hospital requested a discretionary payment, which required them to release “all claims . . . known or unknown” related to TRICARE payments. Several refused to sign the release and did not receive any payments. Although it discovered calculation errors with respect to hospitals represented by counsel, TRICARE did not recalculate payments for any hospitals that did not contest their discretionary payment offer. The Claims Court dismissed the hospitals’ suit. The Federal Circuit reversed in part, finding that they may bring a claim for breach of contract but may not bring money-mandating claims under 10 U.S.C. 1079(j)(2) and 32 C.F.R. 199.7(h)(2) because the government’s interpretation of the statute was reasonable. View "Ingham Regional Medical Center v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4311(a), arguing that when he returned from service in the U.S. Air Force, FedEx improperly paid him a $7,400 bonus instead of the $17,700 bonus he would have earned had he not served. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision awarding plaintiff the higher signing bonus and attorney's fees. The panel held that arbitration was not required in this case; the district court properly used the reasonable certainty test to determine that plaintiff showed by a preponderance of the evidence that his military service was a "substantial or motivating factor" to cause an adverse employment action; the district court properly relied on the the escalator principle, which provides that a returning service member should not be removed from the progress of his career trajectory; the district court did not clearly err in finding that plaintiff was reasonably certain to have achieved the higher bonus status had he not left for his military service; the district court correctly concluded that plaintiff's bonus was, in part, a seniority-based benefit; and even if the signing bonus were not a seniority-based benefit, Section 4316 still would not bar plaintiff's claim. View "Huhmann v. Federal Express Corp." on Justia Law

by
Goodman served in the U.S. Army, 1972-1992, with service in Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf War. During his service and at his discharge, Goodman underwent medical examinations that returned negative for rheumatoid arthritis; he denied having pain in his joints or arthritis. In 2007, Goodman sought treatment at a VA medical center for hand stiffness and knee pain, which he said had begun during service. He sought VA benefits for rheumatoid arthritis. The Board sought an independent medical advisory opinion from the Veterans Health Administration, which was conducted by a VA medical center Director of Rheumatology in 2014 and concluded that “it is less likely than not” that Goodman’s rheumatoid arthritis can be characterized as a medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness (MUCMI) under 38 C.F.R. 3.317, and that it “is less likely than not that his rheumatoid arthritis is related to a specific exposure event experienced … during service. The Board concluded that Goodman was not entitled to a presumptive service connection for a MUCMI; the Federal Circuit affirmed. The VA adjudicator may consider evidence of medical expert opinions and all other facts of record to make the final determination of whether a claimant has proven, based on the claimant’s unique symptoms, the existence of a MUCMI. View "Goodman v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

by
Kisor served in the Marine Corps from 1962-1966. In 1982, he sought disability compensation benefits for PTSD with the Portland, Oregon VA Regional Office (RO), which received a letter from a Vet Center counselor, expressing concerns that Kisor had “depression, suicidal thoughts, and social withdraw[a]l.” In 1983, the RO obtained a psychiatric examination for Kisor, which noted that Kisor had served in Vietnam; that he had participated in “Operation Harvest Moon”; that he was on a search operation when his company came under attack; that he reported several contacts with snipers and occasional mortar rounds fired into his base of operation; and that he “was involved in one major ambush which resulted in 13 deaths in a large company.” The examiner expressed his “distinct impression” that Kisor suffered from “a personality disorder as opposed to PTSD,” which cannot be a basis for service connection. Kisor did not pursue an appeal. In 2006, Kisor submitted a request to reopen and presented a 2007 report of a psychiatric evaluation diagnosing PTSD. He was granted a 50% rating. The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed that Kisor was not entitled to an effective date earlier than June 2006 for the PTSD. Kisor’s remedy for the earlier denial would have been an appeal. View "Kisor v. Shulkin" on Justia Law