Since the news is filled with House GOP Howler Monkey antics, still more Santos WTF? financial stuff, and now Pence (and McConnell too?) classified documents crap this news about a SCOTUS decision telling certain veterans with proven, service related disabilities to F*ck Off hasn’t gotten much attention.
Here are the basics: Adolfo Arellano was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1981 after four years of service. An aircraft carrier he served on was involved in a collision in which some sailors were crushed to death and he almost died too. He developed symptoms of PTSD (remember, this was four decades ago!) and other mental disorders. His brother became his caregiver and has remained so since. Arellano wasn’t in any shape to make decisions much less navigate the VA system, and his brother didn’t even learn he would be eligible for disability until 2011. So the one year rule for filing a claim had been expired for decades. Now, Arellano was in fact approved for disability, but only starting once his claim had been filed (by his brother on his behalf) and approved in 2011. The brother learned there was a provision that would allow him to apply for back benefits to his time of service and that’s where things got problematic. The VA denied the claim, so the case went to court. At the Court of Appeals level the decision was split 6-6, so the Roberts Court decided to weigh in. And as one might expect from a Roberts Court some sailor stood NO chance of prevailing despite precedent and custom. Arellano lost.
Oh, and by the way the decision was unanimous.
I’ll bet even the learned Justices would, upon helping a friend or relative file for VA benefits (especially disability and needing decades old records) would experience more than a few bout of WFT? frustration understanding the process. And getting everything “just so” in the application. The VA is a large and complex agency. It’s known as the agency for even very smart & capable people with proven management credentials go to see their careers die. For all that the VA health care system annually gets among the highest satisfaction ratings despite some well-publicized problems, particularly at a handful of facilities a while back. Benefits is another story and takes too much time to explain why. The short version is incompatibility between the DOD and VA record keeping systems both paper and digital. Not to mention policy/priority differences.
But let’s get back to the matter at hand. Perhaps, as noted in the write up in Slate the three Democratic appointees might be looking at fights to come and decided to concentrate their energies on those. But in yet another deviation from long held practice, the “Justices” decided that Veteran’s filing for disability past a one-year deadline don’t merit being granted relief under a long held concept known as Equitable Tolling (a legal Doctrine that allows a statute to be paused in extraordinary circumstances) when applied to statutes of limitations. Others still do, just not Disabled Veterans who so often don’t even know they are eligible for benefits. Or, in the too often labyrinth that is the VA get mistakenly told they don’t have a claim, only to find out years later they do. Or new information comes to light. The point being that given the paperwork, the hoops to jump through when told one is unlikely to prevail many don’t bother starting the process.
Then there are those who’s disability doesn’t manifest right away. Or is such that they and/or their loved ones spend a long time, not just a year but years simply helping them make it day-to-day. And don’t find out until after that one year deadline that benefits might be available.
This is how the Equitable Tolling Doctrine became an established thing. As the linked article states:
The Supreme Court has long held that statutes of limitation are subject to a presumption of “equitable tolling.” That just means a deadline can be suspended when some “extraordinary circumstance” prevented a party from raising their claim on time. The doctrine reaches back to the founding era and has always served as a “background principle” whenever Congress drafts statutes of limitations.
I must note that if statutory language is “inconsistent” with Equitable Tolling the Doctrine doesn’t apply but there are solid indicators using past and even recent legal decisions indicating it does and that deference should have been given to the Doctrine in this case. Hell, even Scalia once wrote:
Again, from the linked article:
There are several very good reasons why equitable tolling should apply here. First, the Supreme Court has said that “interpretive doubt” must be read in favor of veterans; as Justice Antonin Scalia once noted, this rule is “more like a fist than a thumb” on the scale, “as it should be.” Second, the broader statute expresses special solicitude toward veterans as they navigate a bureaucratic maze in search of their rightful benefits—precisely the context in which equitable tolling would normally apply.
Special circumstances can come up, and sometimes exceptions are warranted. SCOTUS itself has held that way in prior cases. Unless, as of now one happens to be a Veteran with a service related disability who didn’t file an initial claim on time. Even if they were unable to do so. Or even knew they might have a claim.
So if my headline seems harsh and even over-the-top I have no f**ks to give.
Given personal experience with the VA disability system (I have a small partial disability rating due to service related hearing loss) and more recently trying to put together a new claim. Like several thousand others I was to exposure to toxic fumes from a large fire at Camp Pendleton forty years ago. Turns out some people wound up developing problems tied to that incident. In my case it possibly contributed to the severe peripheral neuropathy in my lower legs and feet (I was encouraged to apply btw) but I’ve wasted my time. No point in continuing to try and gather records. (It can be like pulling teeth, and some paper records are so faded as to be useless) People like me, including those who have far more significant disabilities DO NOT MATTER. “Justice” Barrett, writing for the Court has made that clear.
So yes, if I sound bitter it’s because I know and have known people who have jumped through hoops trying to get disability due them and were rebuffed for all manner of technicalities from improper or incomplete paperwork when the VA itself couldn’t produce records it was supposed to have, to policy/rules changes over the years. And now this.
Once again, and with liberal Justices meekly going along conservative Justices have proven all their platitudes about “respecting precedent” during confirmation were pure, unadulterated bullshit. Lies. Perjury!
And that troops, even ones who wound up disabled from their service will get no help from the courts. Unless they realized in time that they had suffered injury they are S.O.L. Barrett/SCOTUS has made clear, has Ruled that although sometimes physical problems don’t manifest right away, or a prognosis turns out down the road to have been overly optimistic and an injury never heals/is rehabilitated to normal functioning the Doctrine of Extended Tolling doesn’t extend to them. Others might still receive it, and I’m willing to bet if it was some big GOP muckety muck that had some regulatory problem that became a giant headache years or decades later by god they will get that consideration. But disable Vets? Not a chance!
So yeah, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in nice, fancy legalese Barrett told disabled Vets to STFU and go away. And stay the hell away. (And yes, die so as not to burden her and her rich cronies who want to keep their goddamned tax cuts!)