Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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The case involves Mark W. Smith, a U.S. Navy veteran, who appealed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Smith had initially filed a claim for service connection for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) after his discharge from the Navy in 1991. However, his request was denied by the Regional Office of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 1992, and this denial was affirmed by the Board of Veterans Appeals in 1996. Smith did not appeal this decision, and it became final.In 2012, Smith filed a new claim for service connection for DVT, which was granted by the VA in 2013. In 2016, Smith filed a motion to revise the 1996 Board Decision, alleging that it was tainted by clear and unmistakable error (CUE). He argued that there was sufficient evidence in 1996 to show he had DVT, and thus his claim should have been allowed to proceed with the VA's duty to assist. However, the Board denied his motion, and this denial was affirmed by the Veterans Court.The case was then brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Smith argued that the Veterans Court had erred in its interpretation of the CUE standard in 38 C.F.R. § 20.1403, claiming that the court had incorrectly limited CUE-eligible errors to those that would have led to a grant of service connection. However, the Federal Circuit Court disagreed with Smith's interpretation and affirmed the decision of the Veterans Court. The court held that a revision or reversal based on CUE requires an error that, once corrected, alters the merits outcome of a veteran’s claim with absolute clarity. View "SMITH v. MCDONOUGH " on Justia Law

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The case involves Daniel D. Barry, a veteran who appealed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Barry had argued that the Board of Veterans’ Appeals should have considered his entitlement to multiple special monthly compensation (SMC) increases, rather than just one, under 38 C.F.R. § 3.350(f)(3). The Veterans Court disagreed, interpreting § 3.350(f)(3) to permit only one SMC increase, regardless of how many qualifying disabilities Barry could demonstrate.The Veterans Court had previously remanded the case for further explanation and consideration of potential additional SMC entitlement. The Board then concluded that Barry could not show entitlement to an additional SMC increase under 38 C.F.R. § 3.350(f)(4). Barry appealed this decision to the Veterans Court, arguing that the Board erred by not considering whether he would be entitled to an additional SMC increase under 38 C.F.R. § 3.350(f)(3).The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the decision of the Veterans Court. The court held that § 3.350(f)(3) does not limit how many SMC increases can be provided; instead, it is a mandatory entitlement that can apply multiple times, subject to a statutory cap. The court remanded the case for further proceedings, including the calculation of the number of intermediate-rate SMC increases Barry should receive. View "BARRY v. MCDONOUGH " on Justia Law

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In 2006, veteran Robert Fleming began applying for disability benefits for service-connected injuries. In 2016, he entered into a contingent-fee agreement with James Perciavalle for representation before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA awarded Fleming past-due benefits in 2017, but ruled that Perciavalle was statutorily barred from receiving fees on the non-SMC portion of the award. The VA found the pre-Act version of 38 U.S.C. § 5904(c)(1) applicable based on the date on which Fleming had filed a particular notice of disagreement with the regional office regarding his PTSD benefits.The Board of Veterans’ Appeals affirmed the fee denial, agreeing with the regional office that the pre-Act version of the fee provision, not the post-Act version, applies here. The United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Veterans Court) affirmed the Board’s decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed and remanded the decision of the Veterans Court. The Federal Circuit concluded that the Veterans Court relied on an incorrect legal standard in determining which version of § 5904(c)(1) applies. The Federal Circuit also concluded that the post-Act version is the applicable one, based on the material facts that are not in dispute. The Federal Circuit found that as long as a notice of disagreement was filed on or after June 20, 2007, in the same “case” in which counsel is seeking fees, the post-Act version of 38 U.S.C. § 5904(c)(1) applies. View "PERCIAVALLE v. MCDONOUGH " on Justia Law

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The case involves four veterans who appealed from judgments of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which dismissed their petitions for writs of mandamus due to lack of jurisdiction. The veterans' disability ratings were reduced, and they sought to have their original ratings continue pending the final resolution of the validity of the reduction. The veterans argued that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) could not lawfully decrease or discontinue their payments until their appeals challenging the reduction were exhausted.The Veterans Court found that there was no basis on which it could issue a writ under the All Writs Act in aid of its jurisdiction. The Veterans Court dismissed the veterans' petitions for lack of jurisdiction. The veterans then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.The Federal Circuit Court affirmed the Veterans Court's decision. The court held that mandamus relief was not available for the veterans under the All Writs Act because there was an adequate remedy by appeal that the veterans had chosen not to invoke. The court concluded that when there is a remedy by appeal, mandamus is unavailable. The court found that the veterans could have requested relief from the VA, and if a decision had been obtained from the Board denying the requested relief, a remedy by appeal would have been available to the veterans. The court also noted that an appeal is available if three conditions are satisfied: a clear and final decision of a legal issue, the resolution of the legal issues adversely affects the party seeking review, and there is a substantial risk that the decision would not survive a remand. The court found that these conditions would have been satisfied if the veterans had appealed the question of their entitlement to interim payments while the merits of their reductions were still pending. View "LOVE v. MCDONOUGH " on Justia Law

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The case involves Benito R. Chavez, a Vietnam War veteran who sought service connection for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After being diagnosed with chronic, moderately severe PTSD, he was granted a 100 percent disability evaluation by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). However, after a subsequent medical examination, his disability rating was reduced to 50 percent, and later increased to 70 percent, as it was determined that his condition did not result in total occupational impairment. Chavez disagreed with this decision and appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, which upheld the reduction.Chavez then appealed to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, arguing that the Board's decision should be reversed and his 100 percent rating reinstated. The Veterans Court agreed that the Board may have improperly relied on evidence developed after the rating reduction, but instead of reversing the Board’s decision, it remanded the case back to the Board for further examination.Chavez appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, arguing that the Veterans Court should have reversed the Board’s decision rather than remanding the case. The government contended that the Federal Circuit lacked jurisdiction over Chavez's appeal. The Federal Circuit rejected the government's jurisdictional argument but affirmed the decision of the Veterans Court on the merits. The Federal Circuit held that the Veterans Court was fully entitled to remand the case to the Board for clarification, and therefore, the decision of the Veterans Court was affirmed. View "Chavez v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around the dispute between Daniel Bader, a military officer who previously held the rank of Colonel but had attained the rank of Brigadier General at the time of his application for retirement in 2012, and the United States. Bader was found to have violated ethical standards set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 207(c) and 5 C.F.R. § 2635, which led to his retirement at the rank of Colonel, affecting his rate of retirement pay. Bader brought suit in the Court of Federal Claims seeking compensation for his allegedly lost pay. The court, however, ruled against him, finding no error in the decision to retire him at the lower rank of Colonel.Bader appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, arguing that he was unfairly penalized for holding both a military and civilian employment concurrently, which was permissible. He also contended that he was acting in accordance with multiple ethics opinions that he believed permitted his actions, and that his employer's operation through an Other Transactions Authority allowed him to engage in the conduct he was penalized for.The Appeals Court, however, affirmed the lower court's decision, stating that Bader's simultaneous employment in military and civilian capacities did not exempt him from ethical obligations. His reliance on ethics opinions didn't change the fact that he used his government position to benefit his private employer. The court also clarified that the Other Transactions Authority doesn't exempt government employees from generally applicable ethics regulations. Therefore, Bader's retirement at the rank of Colonel was deemed appropriate given his violations of ethical standards. View "BADER v. US " on Justia Law

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This case revolves around Mr. Orville Thomas, a former U.S. Navy serviceman, who sought an earlier effective date for his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claim connected to his service. Thomas had initially filed a claim for "depressive mania" in 1971, after surviving a plane crash during his service, which had been denied by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In 2014, he requested to reopen his claim, submitting additional service department records not previously considered by the VA. While the VA granted service connection for PTSD in 2014, they denied an earlier effective date.Thomas appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, arguing the VA had overlooked certain service department records and regulations, specifically 38 C.F.R. § 3.156(c), which could have potentially allowed for an earlier effective date. However, the Board agreed with the VA’s denial. Thomas further appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, arguing that the Board failed to consider all potentially relevant issues, violating its statutory duty under 38 U.S.C. § 7104(d)(1).The Veterans Court affirmed the Board's decision, arguing that Thomas did not demonstrate the relevance of his service records to his 1971 claim. Thomas appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which found that the Veterans Court applied a more stringent legal standard than required under 38 U.S.C. § 7104. It ruled that the Board must consider all "potentially applicable" regulations raised in the record, not only those proven to be relevant or favorable by the veteran.The Federal Circuit court vacated the Veterans Court’s decision and remanded the case to the Board to provide an adequate written statement of its reasons for denying Thomas's claim for an earlier effective date for his PTSD, considering all relevant regulations and records. View "Thomas v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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The case originates from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The appellant, Herbie D. Vest, served on active duty in the United States Army from 1966 to 1971. In 1971, Vest filed a claim for service connection for hearing loss and tinnitus, which was granted at a 0% rating. A subsequent request for an increased rating was denied. In 1972, Vest sent a letter to the Veterans Administration Regional Office (RO) expressing his belief of an error in their decision. In 2016, Vest submitted a claim for compensation for Meniere's disease and "ears-ringing," which was granted at a 60% disability rating, which Vest disputed.In 2020, Vest argued that his 1972 letter constituted a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and should be considered as such. However, the RO did not accept the letter as an NOD. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals found that the letter expressed dissatisfaction with the decision on his hearing loss disability, but did not express disagreement with the decision regarding tinnitus. The United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims dismissed Vest's appeal, holding that they did not have jurisdiction to address the question of defective notice. The court noted that Vest did not argue that he had submitted an NOD with the initial decision concerning tinnitus, and he didn't challenge the Board’s determinations that the letter was not an NOD for the tinnitus decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the appeal by the Veterans Court due to lack of jurisdiction. The court reasoned that the absence of an NOD on the 1971 tinnitus claim and the lack of any decision by the Board on that claim defeat jurisdiction in the Veterans Court. View "Vest v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Between 2010 and 2014, the United States Coast Guard convened Active Duty Enlisted Career Retention Screening Panels (CRSPs) to select enlisted service members for involuntary retirement. This process was carried out without following the procedures and standards of the then-applicable 14 U.S.C. § 357(a)–(h), which addressed involuntary retirement of certain Coast Guard service members with specified seniority. Several former Coast Guard service members, after being involuntarily retired through the CRSP process, brought a case against the United States in the Court of Federal Claims under the Tucker Act, asserting that their retirements were contrary to the law as the Coast Guard had not followed § 357(a)–(h). The government responded by invoking § 357(j), which stated that § 357(a)–(h) did not apply to a “reduction in force.” The issue of the applicability of that exception to the CRSPs was the primary topic of the appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court's decision that the involuntary retirements were unlawful because the CRSPs were not part of a “reduction in force.” The court concluded that a “reduction in force” as used in § 357(j) did not include actions to separate current occupants from their positions with the intent to refill those positions. The court rejected the government’s arguments for a different conclusion. Therefore, the court affirmed the Claims Court’s partial final judgment. View "TIPPINS v. US " on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reviewed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Veterans Court) that granted a petition for a writ of mandamus permitting the Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board) to hear appeals of adverse decisions rendered under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (Caregiver Program). The claimants were Jeremy Beaudette, a Marine Corps veteran who was rated 100% disabled due to multiple concussions that resulted in traumatic brain injury and legal blindness, and his wife Maya Beaudette. They applied for benefits under the Caregiver Program in March 2013 and were found eligible. However, in February 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notified them that they were no longer eligible for Caregiver Program benefits. They appealed this decision through the VA Clinical Appeals process, but their appeals were denied. The Beaudettes then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Veterans Court to permit Board review of adverse Caregiver Program decisions. In April 2021, a majority of a three-judge panel granted the Beaudettes' petition and certified the request for a class.The Veterans Court held that Congress mandated Board review of all Caregiver Program decisions, disagreeing with the VA's position that the phrase "medical determination" in § 1720G(c)(1) is a reference to a longstanding VA rule excluding medical determinations from Board review. The VA appealed this decision to the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Veterans Court's decision, holding that § 1720G(c)(1) of the Caregiver Act only bars judicial review of Caregiver Program decisions on the furnishing of assistance or support. The court concluded that the Beaudettes and other similarly situated veterans and caregivers have an indisputable right to judicial review of Caregiver Program decisions that do not affect the furnishing of support or assistance. View "BEAUDETTE v. MCDONOUGH " on Justia Law