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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

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Harkness was commissioned as a Navy Chaplain Corps officer in 1987, endorsed by a non-liturgical Christian church. Harkness left active duty in 1995 and took reserve status. In 2000, Harkness and other non-liturgical chaplains sued the Navy, alleging systemic denominational prejudice in its promotion procedures. That suit is still pending. In 2007, Harkness was denied promotion by a reserve officer promotion board. Harkness requested a special selection board (SSB). The petition was denied. Harkness filed suit in 2010, challenging (10 U.S.C. 14502(h)(1)) the SSB denial and the promotion procedures. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the constitutional claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In 2012, the Secretary convened an SSB to reconsider the 2007 decision. It did not select Harkness for promotion; Harkness unsuccessfully requested a second SSB. In 2013, Harkness was again denied promotion and unsuccessfully requested an SSB, alleging that procedures employed by promotion boards produced denominational preferences and challenging the delegation of governmental authority to chaplains serving on promotion boards without effective guarantees that the power would be exercised in a neutral, secular manner. In filing suit, Harkness added a First Amendment retaliation claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of all claims. the 2013 promotion board was not constitutionally infirm; the denial of Harkness’s 2013 SSB request was not arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise contrary to law under section 14502(h)(1). View "Harkness v. Secretary of Navy" on Justia Law

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Kitlinski, employed by the DEA and a Coast Guard reservist, was recalled to active duty. For an extended period, he served full-time at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. He filed complaints under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4301-35, and an equal employment opportunity complaint against DEA, based on DEA’s responses to his requests to be transferred from DEA’s San Diego office to Arlington, Virginia, where Kitlinski’s wife worked. After a deposition, Kitlinski returned to his car, in a secure DEA parking lot, and discovered a Blackberry device bearing a DEA sticker under his car's hood. He suspected that it was intended to track his location and record his conversations. Kitlinski reported his discovery to the FBI. Kitlinski’s wife was interrogated and was threatened with discipline if she did not turn over the Blackberry. Kitlinski filed an action with the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging that the placement of the Blackberry and his wife's interview violated USERRA as discrimination and by creating a hostile work environment. He also alleged retaliation and a hostile work environment in retaliation for his exercise of his USERRA rights. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s dismissal of various claims but remanded in part because the Board did not make a finding on Kitlinski’s claim that DEA had created a hostile work environment in retaliation for his USERRA activities. View "Kitlinski v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Ollis, a veteran, sought disability benefits under 38 U.S.C. 1151, which provides benefits for certain injuries incurred as a result of VA medical care. Ollis suffers from atrial fibrillation and claims a disability resulting from complications of a heart procedure to treat that condition. The procedure (miniMAZE) was allegedly recommended by a VA doctor but was performed by a private doctor. The VA denied Ollis’s application for benefits. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims affirmed. The Federal Circuit vacated in part, remanding the question of whether Ollis’s VA doctors were negligent by recommending the mini-MAZE procedure to him. The Veterans Court focused on whether VA medical treatment caused Ollis to utilize Dr. Hall and Methodist Medical Center, rather than on whether VA medical treatment caused him to have the mini-MAZE procedure itself. On remand, the Veterans Court must also address the “not reasonably foreseeable” and “proximate cause of the disability” requirements. The court affirmed rejection of an argument that VA’s failure to provide him notice that a referral to a private facility for his miniMAZE procedure could extinguish his eligibility for benefits constituted a violation of his right to due process. View "Ollis v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

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A state court may not order a veteran to indemnify a divorced spouse for the loss in the spouse’s portion of the veteran’s retirement pay caused by the veteran’s waiver of retirement pay to receive service-related disability benefits. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act authorizes states to treat veterans’ “disposable retired pay” as community property divisible upon divorce, 10 U.S.C. 1408, excluding amounts deducted from that pay “as a result of a waiver . . . required by law in order to receive” disability benefits. In their divorce, Sandra was awarded 50% of John’s future Air Force retirement pay, which she began to receive when John retired. Years later, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that John was partially disabled due to an earlier service-related injury. To receive disability pay, John gave up an equivalent amount of retirement pay, 38 U.S.C. 5305. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed a family court order that Sandra receive her full 50% regardless of the waiver. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed. John’s military pay was subject to a future contingency. State courts cannot “vest” that which they lack the authority to give. Family courts remain free to consider the contingency that some military retirement pay might be waived or consider reductions in value when calculating or recalculating the need for spousal support. View "Howell v. Howell" on Justia Law

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Member of Naval Reserve, terminated by private employer, established a prima facie case under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Savage worked as an aviation mechanic for FedEx, 2001-2012, simultaneously serving as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. He was terminated by FedEx for violating its reduced-rate shipping policy and acceptable conduct policy. He had never been disciplined before his termination; he claims he was unaware of a change in policy that prohibited use of an employee discount for shipping items sold on eBay. FedEx had accommodated his military duties and employs other members of the military. Savage had complained, to a third-party administrator, about a miscalculation in his pension benefits. Savage claimed discrimination, retaliation, and improper benefit calculations under USERRA, 38 U.S.C. 431. The district court granted FedEx summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, finding that Savage provided evidence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether FedEx correctly calculated his pension contributions under section 4318. Savage also provided evidence of disparate treatment, motivated by his protected status, with respect to misuse of the shipping discount, sufficient to survive summary judgment. The court concluded that Savage had not been targeted for investigation. View "Savage v. Federal Express Corp." on Justia Law