The United States Supreme Court has decided to take up a case that could have major ramifications for thousands of veterans.
The case involves a Navy veteran who believes his disability compensation from the VA should have begun from the date he left the military, not when he filed the paperwork.
The Supreme Court’s decision could result in a large number of veterans receiving back pay on their disability compensation, many of whom waited years to file their claims.
Adolfo Arellano is the veteran in the case, and during his years in service from 1977-1981 he was on an aircraft carrier when a large collision occurred. The incident resulted in the deaths and injuries of several of his shipmates. It nearly swept Arellano overboard, leaving him with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental conditions.
30 years later Arellano filed a claim with the VA and it was approved. They backdated it to the date he filed the paperwork in 2011. But Arellano appealed, arguing that the disability payments should have been made retroactive to his discharge. He says the mental health conditions he developed from the collision prevented him from filing the claim sooner.
Arellano’s claim was denied by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, at which point he appealed and the Federal Circuit judges split their decision on the case.
After the split, Arellano’s legal team petitioned the Supreme Court.
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A ruling in Arellano’s favor has the potential to affect “thousands of current and future veterans,” according to his attorney, James Barney, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and partner in the D.C.-based firm Finnegan.
Barney said that, as the equitable tolling doctrine stands now, veterans have no recourse for seeking a waiver to the one-year deadline, “no matter how compelling the individual circumstances.”
“It would apply a more flexible rule that would be to the benefit of potentially thousands of disabled veterans,” Barney told Military.com. “The equitable tolling doctrine is only supposed to apply in extenuating circumstances, but when you are talking about disabled veterans, there often are extenuating circumstances.”
In Arellano’s petition to the court, his attorneys noted that veterans fail to file claims within the one-year period for reasons other than incapacitation, including that they may be discouraged by others, may not be aware they are eligible for benefits, or they were injured during operations that involved secrecy and fear disclosing classified information.
“This would at least give these veterans an opportunity to ask the court to toll these deadlines because, as of right now, the veteran has zero chance of asking for [a waiver],” Barney said.
Every year thousands of cases are petitioned to the Supreme Court, and only about 80 get taken up.
“It’s an unfortunate reality that many members of the armed forces face a difficult path once discharged from the service,” Arellano’s lawyers stated in their petition to the Supreme Court. “Indeed, the sad irony is that the very illnesses the veterans’ benefits system is designed to address, such as PTSD, are often the ones that cause veterans to miss the one-year deadline.”
This article originally appeared on USMilitary.org, and has been shared with permission.