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Alito: VA Should Not Enforce “Rigid” Jurisdictional Requirements Against Veterans

Written by Evan Farr

While it may be true that the Supreme Court is often tasked with the daunting assignment of deciding the most controversial and divisive of issues, last Tuesday’s unanimous ruling was a little different.

Most who are familiar with the facts of Henderson v. Shinseki would probably agree that the decision “felt right;” especially to the elder law attorneys and senior-serving professionals who help U.S. Veterans on a daily basis.

The Court reversed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals that ruled Veterans Court judges could not extend the deadline to appeal, even when a Veteran’s mental illness procured the delay.

Justice Samuel Alito explained the Courts’ rationale in reversing the decision of the Court of Appeals;

The (Dep’t of Veterans Affairs) is charged with the responsibility of assisting veterans in developing evidence that supports their claims, and in evaluating that evidence, the VA must give the veteran the benefit of any doubt. … Rigid jurisdictional treatment of the 120-day period for filing a notice of appeal in the Veterans Court would clash sharply with this scheme.

For an interesting look at how the case developed in the headlines over the course of the past several months, read the first Washington Post article I referenced late last year, Court hears appeal from veteran who missed deadline, here.  Then, read Supreme Court eases benefit deadline for vets, the recent article from USA Today, available here.  The latter link also includes a photo of the late Mr. Henderson.

Last year I called attention to Henderson on my National Elder Law News Blog, in the article, Veteran Misses Filing Deadline Due to Mental Illness: Fair? a case about a Veteran with Schizophrenia, whose illness prevented him from meeting a deadline imposed by the government.

Mr. Henderson’s lawyer argued in front of the Court that his client’s disability – which developed as a result of years in the service – prevented him (Mr. Henderson) from meeting a deadline to appeal the government’s denial of his request for home care by the Veteran’s Administration.  The argument was that it would be an injustice to strictly enforce the deadline against Mr. Henderson.

Veterans’ disability compensation is paid to Veterans who are injured as a result of their service to the country.  If denied a request for benefits, there are 120 days to file a notice of intent to appeal.  Mr. Henderson was denied home care by the Veteran’s Administration, after which he filed his notice of appeal 15 days late.

The case really boiled down to inquiries of fairness and Congressional intent.  Henderson argued that Congress intended for Veterans to be treated fairly, and that the 120-day time limit was meant to be flexible; a permeable deadline, should the interests of justice require an extension.

The loser in this case (The Secretary of Veterans Affairs) argued that the time period was meant to be strictly applied and that any change to the deadline must come from Congress itself and not from the discretion of the bench (a judge).

Various veterans groups followed this case from its inception.  With the traumatic stress and psychological scars evident in many soldiers who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, groups like the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, the National Veterans Foundation, and Paralyzed Veterans of America are undoubtedly happy with how Henderson turned out.

For information on Aid & Attendance benefits, you can check out our Firm’s links to frequently asked questions below:

What Is the Amount of the Aid and Attendance Benefit?

Who Is Eligible for the Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit?


Is Aid and Attendance Only for Low Income Veterans?


How is the Aid and Attendance Benefit Calculated?


Filing a Claim


The Asset Test

Image Credits: Photograph uploaded by FreeDigitalPhotos.net Admin