Thousands of Veterans May See Disability Deadline Waived as Supreme Court Takes Up Case

Thousands of Veterans May See Disability Deadline Waived as Supreme Court Takes Up Case


In the ultimate decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court has heard the appeal of a Navy veteran who believes he should have received disability compensation starting from the day he left the military rather than from the day he filed his paperwork, an outcome which could mean substantial back pay for veteran who delayed filing for years.

A veteran named Adolfo Arellano served from 1977 to 1981. During that service, he was assigned to an aircraft carrier that was involved in a collision that "killed and injured several of his crew members and nearly swept him overboard," according to court papers.

He had been diagnosed with PTSD and other mental health conditions 30 years later, and he requested disability benefits, which were approved as service-connected by the VA and backdated to his 2011 filing.

The appeals court agreed, saying Arellano should have gotten payments retroactive to the date of discharge since his mental health issues prevented him from filing a claim sooner -- in particular, filing during the one-year grace period that transitioning service members have.

According to Arellano, the statute of limitations should have been waived since he wasn't aware of the deadline until it had expired -- a legal concept called "equitable tolling."

Arellano's lawyers petitioned the court.

If Arellano's case is decided in his favor, it would affect "thousands" of veteran families, according to his lawyer, James Barney, a graduate of the U.S. Maritime Academy and a partner in the D.C.-based firm Finnegan.

Veterans cannot request toll waivers under the equitable tolling doctrine, "no matter what their individual circumstances may be."

"This would apply a more flexible rule that would benefit potentially thousands of disabled veterans," Barney told In the equitable tolling doctrine, extenuating circumstances are supposed to apply, but when it comes to the case of disabled veterans, sometimes there are extenuating circumstances.

According to Arellano's petition to the court, other reasons other than incapacitation could prevent veterans from filing claims within one year, like being discouraged by others, not being aware they are eligible, or being injured during secretive operations and not wanting to disclose information.

As of now, veterans have no chance of requesting waivers, so this would give them at least the opportunity to ask the court," Barney said.

There are roughly 7,000 to 8,000 petitions submitted to the Supreme Court every year, but only about 80 cases are heard.

Barney said the justices probably decided to take Arellano's case because the Federal Circuit seems divided on the issue.

In such a case, the Supreme Court should take a look at the issue. Our role at the Supreme Court is to step in and decide, said Barney.

As the case, Arellano v. McDonough, has now been accepted, the government has to respond. We do not have a date for the oral arguments.

According to Arellano's attorneys, many armed service members face tough times after they leave the military. Unfortunately, the sad irony is that the very conditions that the veterans' benefits system is designed to address, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), are commonly the reasons for veterans' failure to meet the one-year deadline.