Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

by
Carr served Air Force active duty, 1976-1980, earning 45 months of education benefits under Chapter 34 (Vietnam-era GI Bill), Carr used 41 months and 11 days of those benefits for his own education before the entire Chapter 34 program expired. After September 11, 2001, Carr returned to active duty and would have been eligible for 36 additional months of benefits under Chapter 33 (Post-9/11 GI Bill), but 38 U.S.C. 3695 limited him to a cumulative total of 48 months. Carr transferred those benefits to his daughter, 38 U.S.C. 3319, who used paid for two semesters. Due to a VA error, she initially did not receive payments to cover the final days of the Fall 2010 semester and was informed, incorrectly, that she had exhausted her benefits. Later, it was discovered that she had 19 days of benefits remaining; one day was applied to the Fall 2013 semester. Chapter 33 permits extensions of education benefits “in a roundabout way” to the end of the semester, 38 C.F.R. 21.9635(o)(1). The regional office, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and the Veterans Court rejected Carr's Chapter 33 claim. The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded for consideration of the unaddressed regulatory challenge. . The Veterans Court resolved the appeal through statutory interpretation and did not address the transferred benefits regulation; 38 U.S.C. 3695(a)’s aggregate multi-program benefits cap does not preclude end-of-term extensions of benefits authorized under individual benefits programs. View "Carr v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

by
After appellant asked the Board to expunge or amend Army investigators' determinations recorded in his military files, the Board denied his application and the district court sustained its decision. The DC Circuit reversed, holding that a basic mistake of fact rendered the Board's decision arbitrary and capricious. In this case, the allegedly false statement was the expiration date of appellant's current military orders, which he wrote in a blank on the 2007-2008 school year registration form to re-enroll his three children at the Fort Buchanan base school. Army investigators opened a fraud investigation on the premise that appellant's assignment was for two years, rather than three. However, it is undisputed that the assignment was for three years and the investigation did not lead to any criminal prosecution or military discipline. View "Code v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred by summarily denying defendant's petition for recall and resentencing without following the required procedures of Penal Code section 1170.91. Pursuant to section 1170.91, sentencing courts must consider any trauma, substance abuse, and mental health problems caused by a defendant's service in the United States military as mitigating factors weighing in favor of a low-term sentence. In this case, defendant filed a petition after the statute's effective date; stated that he had served in the Marine Corps and ended up suffering from "serious mental health issues and substance abuse addiction" as a result; and attached extensive Marine Corps service records and CDCR mental health records. Therefore, as the People acknowledged, defendant's petition for resentencing met the statutory requirements under section 1170.91, subdivision (b). View "People v. Bonilla-Bray" on Justia Law

by
Babcock joined the Michigan National Guard in 1970 and became a dual-status technician “a Federal civilian employee” who “is assigned to a civilian position as a technician” while maintaining membership in the National Guard, 10 U.S.C. 10216(a)(1); 32 U.S.C. 709(e). Babcock served as a National Guard pilot, held the appropriate military grade, wore a uniform that displayed his rank while working, and attended weekend drills. In 2004-2005, Babcock was deployed to Iraq on active duty. Babcock received military pay for his active-duty service and his inactive-duty training, including weekend drills. Otherwise, he received civil pay and participated in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), 5 U.S.C. 5301. Babcock paid Social Security taxes on the wages for his active-duty service and his inactive-duty training from 1988 onwards, 42 U.S.C. 410(l)(1). He did not pay Social Security taxes on his wages for inactive-duty training before 1988 or on his civil-service wages. In 2009, Babcock retired and began receiving monthly CSRS payments and separate military retirement pay. For several years after his retirement, Babcock flew medical-evacuation helicopters for hospitals. This private-sector income was subject to Social Security taxes. Babcock fully retired in 2014. The government reduced his Social Security benefits under the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) because of his CSRS pension. Babcock cited a WEP exception for payments “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.” While Babcock's case was pending, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the Eighth Circuit’s contrary analysis and held that the uniformed-services exception does not apply to dual-status technicians. The Sixth Circuit subsequently agreed that a federal civil-service pension based on work as a National Guard dual-status technician does not qualify as “a payment based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.” View "Babcock v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

by
Attorney Ravin represented veteran Cook on a claim for past-due disability benefits. Their agreement provided for a contingent fee and contemplated that VA would withhold the fee from any past-due benefits awarded and pay that amount directly to Ravin under 38 U.S.C. 5904(d)(3). Within days of executing that agreement, Ravin sent a copy to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, where it was date-stamped on December 11, 2009. No copy of the agreement was submitted to the Regional Office (RO) “within 30 days of the date of execution,” as required by 38 C.F.R. 14.636(h)(4). The RO awarded Cook past-due benefits in April 2010. On April 13, 2010, the RO’s Attorney Fee Coordinator searched for any attorney fee agreement and determined that “no attorney fee decision is required” and “[a]ll retroactive benefits may be paid directly to the veteran.” The RO paid the past-due benefits to Cook. On April 27, 2010, Ravin mailed a copy of Cook’s direct-pay fee agreement to the RO. The RO informed Ravin that it had not withheld his attorney’s fees because the agreement was “not timely filed.” The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s denial of Ravin’s claim. Section 5904(d)(3) does not mandate withholding and direct payment; 38 C.F.R. 14.636(h)(4)'s submission requirement is valid. Ravin’s fees have not been forfeited; he may use all available remedies to obtain them from Cook, per their agreement. View "Ravin v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

by
Hackett, a South Bend patrolman and an Air National Guard reservist, applied to become a bomb squad technician. Membership on the squad did not constitute a promotion or immediately affect an officer’s pay but could lead to additional work and specialty pay. Hackett was not among the three officers selected. He testified that the director of human resources said that he was the most qualified candidate but was not selected because of his pending seven-month deployment. Hackett filed complaints with the EEOC and the U.S. Department of Labor. The city then offered Hackett a bomb squad position. Other squad members were informed that one would have to give up his position for Hackett. Hackett claims he was never allowed to complete the training. Around the same time, Hackett applied for a promotion. Hackett was deployed when applicants were scheduled to interview. The department moved Hackett’s interview but Hackett was unable to timely submit his work sample. Hackett sued under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the city, rejecting a new hostile work environment claim as forfeited. Hackett failed to challenge findings that his exclusion from the bomb squad did not constitute a materially adverse employment action and that no reasonable jury could find that the promotion process was tainted by any impermissible motive. View "Hackett v. City of South Bend" on Justia Law

by
The DC Circuit denied petitions for writs of mandamus seeking vacatur of all orders issued by the former presiding military judge because of the appearance of partiality. Petitioners are being tried before a military tribunal for their alleged roles in the September 11th terrorist attacks. The court held that it was neither clear nor indisputable that the military judge should have recused himself. The court explained that the military judge's career and relationships do not constitute reasonable bases for the extraordinary remedy of mandamus. View "In re: Mustafa Al Hawsawi" on Justia Law

by
Air Force officers who hold the grade of major must appear before a promotion board, 10 U.S.C. 611(a), 628(k); an officer who is twice passed over for promotion is typically discharged. An officer who would otherwise be discharged may remain in active service upon selection by a continuation board. Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 1320.08 provides that an officer “shall normally be selected for continuation if the officer will qualify for retirement . . . within 6 years… [except] in unusual circumstances.” In 2011, then-Major Engle, who had served in active duty for over 14 years, was passed over for promotion for the second time. A Selective Continuation Board met. Engle would have been within DoDI 1320.08’s protective window and had no disqualifying information in his record. The Secretary of the Air Force had, however, instructed Boards to decrease the protective threshold and reversed the presumption in favor of continuation. Engle was discharged. Months later, Engle was involuntarily called up from the reserves, deployed to Kyrgyzstan, and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Engle continues to serve, without the retirement benefits and additional active duty pay for which he would have qualified if he had been continued. The Federal Circuit reversed with respect to Engle’s claim, citing the Administrative Procedures Act. The Secretary does not have the discretion to rewrite the DoDI. While the military has wide decision-making discretion, it is not wide enough to justify the process employed here. The regulation is meant to protect individuals who have spent most of their lives in service to this country View "Baude v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Steven Kientz spent many years as a "dual status" technician with the Kansas Army National Guard, where he worked as a mechanic on electronic measurement equipment. Plaintiff’s position required him to simultaneously serve as a member of the National Guard, a second job with separate pay and separate responsibilities. In retirement, Plaintiff receives a monthly pension payment under the Civil Service Retirement System based on his service as a dual status technician. Plaintiff also receives Social Security retirement benefits based on contributions he made to the Social Security system from his separate pay as a National Guard member. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether a dual status service technician’s civil service pension was “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service” under 42 U.S.C. 415(a)(7)(A). After review, the Court concluded Plaintiff's civil service pension is not “wholly” based on service as a member of a uniformed service, and his pension payments were therefore subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision ("WEP"). Plaintiff’s dual status technician work was at least partially distinct from the performance of his military duties. And Plaintiff received separate compensation and separate pensions for his performance of those distinct roles. The Court concurred with the district court and Social Security Administration that Plaintiff's Social Security retirement benefits were subject to the WEP. View "Kientz v. Commissioner, SSA" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner, a legal permanent resident, sought review of an agency order of removal based on a finding that he committed an "aggravated felony" within the meaning of 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(G). Under section 1101(a)(43)(G), to establish an aggravated felony, the government must show by clear and convincing evidence that a noncitizen committed a "theft offense" that resulted in a term of imprisonment of "at least one year." Petitioner was a member of the U.S. Army when he pleaded guilty to four violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), one of which was larceny of military property. Under the military's customary practice of unitary sentencing at the time, the military judge issued a general sentence that imposed a punishment for all four of petitioner's convictions for 30 months' confinement. The Second Circuit held that, under the military's traditional unitary sentencing scheme, a military judgment in which a single sentence of confinement is imposed in connection with multiple counts of conviction may not be presumed to be equivalent to equal, full‐term, concurrent sentences as to each count of conviction. Because the government has not carried its burden, the court granted the petition for review and remanded for further proceedings. View "Persad v. Barr" on Justia Law