Articles Posted in Military Law

by
Presumptive service connection exists for veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War and have chronic: undiagnosed illness; medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness (MUCMI); or any diagnosed illness as determined by the Secretary, 38 U.S.C. 1117(a)(2). VA regulations define MUCMI as “a diagnosed illness without conclusive pathophysiology or etiology, that is characterized by overlapping symptoms and signs and has features such as fatigue, pain, disability out of proportion to physical findings, and inconsistent demonstration of laboratory abnormalities. Chronic multisymptom illnesses of partially understood etiology and pathophysiology, such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis, will not be considered medically unexplained.”. Both the statute and regulation identify sleep disturbances and signs or symptoms involving the respiratory system as possible MUCMI manifestations. The VA revised its M21-1 Manual, changing the definition of MUCMI to require “both an inconclusive pathology, and an inconclusive etiology.” Under the subsection “Signs and Symptoms of Undiagnosed Illnesses or MUCMIs,” the VA added, “Sleep apnea cannot be presumptively service-connected (SC) under the provisions of 38 C.F.R. 3.317 since it is a diagnosable condition.” The Federal Circuit dismissed a veterans’ group’s petition for review for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning that the revisions are not binding and not reviewable under 38 U.S.C. 502. View "Disabled American Veterans v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

by
Snyder represented a veteran, Beck, under a 2001 fee agreement (38 U.S.C. 5904). Eight months later, Snyder requested the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to cancel his fee agreement. In 2003 the VA awarded past-due benefits based on a 100% disability rating effective 1992. Snyder sought attorney fees. A VA regional officer (RO) determined that Snyder was entitled to $41,920.47, deductible from the past-due benefits. Beck filed notice of disagreement. Beck died. His widow sought to recover the disputed fees as accrued benefits. The RO denied that request. The Board dismissed Beck’s dispute over attorney fees, citing 38 C.F.R. 20.1302, and remanded Mrs. Beck’s claim. The RO determined Mrs. Beck could not recover the disputed attorney fees because her husband’s claim ceased to exist upon his death. She appealed. The VA’s General Counsel published a precedential opinion stating: A claim, pending at the time of a veteran’s death, challenging an attorney’s entitlement to payment of attorney fees under section 5904 from the veteran’s retroactive periodic monetary benefits may provide a basis for an accrued benefits claim under section 5121, because such a claim concerns entitlement to periodic monetary benefits allegedly due and unpaid to the veteran at the time of death. The Federal Circuit dismissed Snyder’s appeal. That 38 C.F.R. 20.1302 requires dismissal of a veteran’s appeal upon his death has no bearing on a claimant’s separate entitlement to accrued benefits under section 5121. The attorney fee dispute remains pending. View "Snyder v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

by
Kitlinski, employed by the DEA and a Coast Guard reservist, was recalled to active duty. For an extended period, he served full-time at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. He filed complaints under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4301-35, and an equal employment opportunity complaint against DEA, based on DEA’s responses to his requests to be transferred from DEA’s San Diego office to Arlington, Virginia, where Kitlinski’s wife worked. After a deposition, Kitlinski returned to his car, in a secure DEA parking lot, and discovered a Blackberry device bearing a DEA sticker under his car's hood. He suspected that it was intended to track his location and record his conversations. Kitlinski reported his discovery to the FBI. Kitlinski’s wife was interrogated and was threatened with discipline if she did not turn over the Blackberry. Kitlinski filed an action with the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging that the placement of the Blackberry and his wife's interview violated USERRA as discrimination and by creating a hostile work environment. He also alleged retaliation and a hostile work environment in retaliation for his exercise of his USERRA rights. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s dismissal of various claims but remanded in part because the Board did not make a finding on Kitlinski’s claim that DEA had created a hostile work environment in retaliation for his USERRA activities. View "Kitlinski v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

by
Ollis, a veteran, sought disability benefits under 38 U.S.C. 1151, which provides benefits for certain injuries incurred as a result of VA medical care. Ollis suffers from atrial fibrillation and claims a disability resulting from complications of a heart procedure to treat that condition. The procedure (miniMAZE) was allegedly recommended by a VA doctor but was performed by a private doctor. The VA denied Ollis’s application for benefits. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims affirmed. The Federal Circuit vacated in part, remanding the question of whether Ollis’s VA doctors were negligent by recommending the mini-MAZE procedure to him. The Veterans Court focused on whether VA medical treatment caused Ollis to utilize Dr. Hall and Methodist Medical Center, rather than on whether VA medical treatment caused him to have the mini-MAZE procedure itself. On remand, the Veterans Court must also address the “not reasonably foreseeable” and “proximate cause of the disability” requirements. The court affirmed rejection of an argument that VA’s failure to provide him notice that a referral to a private facility for his miniMAZE procedure could extinguish his eligibility for benefits constituted a violation of his right to due process. View "Ollis v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

by
Monk served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. In 2012, Monk sought VA disability benefits, alleging service-connected PTSD, diabetes, hypertension, and strokes. The VA denied the claim, finding that his discharge was “other than honorable.” Monk filed a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and separately applied to the Board of Correction of Naval Records (BCNR) to upgrade his discharge status. In 2015, the VA informed Monk that it could not process his appeal until it received BCNR records. Monk sought a writ of mandamus with Veterans Court and requested that the court certify a class of all veterans who had applied for VA benefits, had timely filed an NOD, had not received a decision within 12 months, and had demonstrated medical or financial hardship (38 U.S.C. 7107(a)(2)(B)–(C)). The Veterans Court denied the request for class certification, denied another veteran’s request to join the action, and ordered the VA to respond to Monk’s petition regarding the denial of disability benefits. BCNR then granted Monk an upgraded discharge status. The Federal Circuit reversed the denial of class certification, finding that the Veterans Court has authority to certify a class for a class action and to maintain similar aggregate resolution procedures with respect to benefit denials. View "Monk v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

by
In 2014, the Board of Veterans Appeals denied Parrott’s claims for benefits on account of her veteran husband’s esophageal adenocarcinoma, with liver and peritoneal metastasis, and his ensuing death. The Veterans Court vacated and remanded. Parrott then timely sought attorney fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412. The Veterans Court awarded her $4,050. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that, in arriving at its award of attorney fees, the Veterans Court misinterpreted EAJA and adopted an incorrect approach for determining the cost of living adjustment to be used in calculating her attorney’s hourly rate and that the court then abused its discretion by not allowing her to resubmit her application using the approach the court had adopted. EAJA states that “attorney fees shall not be awarded in excess of $125 per hour unless the court determines that an increase in the cost of living . . . justifies a higher fee.” The court properly rejected Parrott’s request for a cost of living increase, based on Washington D.C., based on the location of the Veterans Court and applied rates based on the locations of her attorney’s offices in San Francisco, Dallas, and Little Rock. View "Parrott v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

by
Within the Department of Defense, DRMS disposes of surplus military property at Defense Reutilization and Marketing Offices (DRMOs). Property that cannot be reutilized is demilitarized and/or reduced to scrap that can be sold. A 2007 DRMS Request for Proposals sought performance of DRMO activities for up to five years. A referenced website showed DRMS’s historical workload and scrap weight; an amendment indicated that “the contractor may experience significant workload increases or decreases” and outlined a process to “renegotiate the price” if workload increased. DRMS awarded its first contract to Agility to operate six DRMOs for one base year with four option years at a fixed price of $45,233,914.92 per year. Upon commencing work in Arifjan, the largest of the DRMOs, Agility immediately fell behind. It inherited a backlog of approximately 30 weeks. From the start, the volume received at Arifjan was greater than Agility anticipated. The parties terminated their contract for convenience in 2010. Agility thereafter requested funding for its additional costs, claiming DRMS provided inaccurate workload estimates during solicitation. The contracting officer awarded Agility only $236,363.93 for its first claim and nothing for the second, noting that Agility received an offset from its scrap sales. The Federal Circuit reversed, as “clearly erroneous,” the Claims Court’s findings that DRMS did not inadequately or negligently prepare its estimates and that Agility did not rely on those estimates. Agility’s receipt of scrap sales and the parties’ agreement did not preclude recovery. View "Agility Defense & Government Services, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Kays served in the Navy, 1972-1976. In 2005, he sought benefits for disability caused by PTSD, allegedly caused by two non-combat stressors during his service. He was stabbed during a fight as he left an Enlisted Men’s Club, and while off-duty and taking diving lessons, he was asked to help with the recovery effort of a downed civilian helicopter; in the water, he was separated from the group and became stressed. Kays submitted a newspaper article, statements, records, and in-person testimony about those events. In 2005, the VA Regional Office denied Kays’s claim. The Board of Veterans Appeals remanded for further development of the record. The Regional Office again denied the PTSD claim. The Board affirmed. Meanwhile, the pertinent regulation, 38 C.F.R. 3.304(f), was amended and the Veterans Court held that the amendments were retroactive. On remand, the Board again denied Kays’s claim, finding that statements by Kays and his former spouse about the alleged stabbing were unsupported and contradicted by other evidence and that Kays’s testimony about the search and rescue was not credible because of the lack of supporting detail in the article, his delay in reporting the event, and his changing story. The Veterans Court found the Board’s decision to be a question of fact reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that the Veterans Court applied the correct standard of review and correctly determined that the regulations require credible supporting evidence. View "Kays v. McDonald" on Justia Law

by
Kennedy enrolled at George Washington University (GWU) in 2003. He obtained a Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship in 2005, agreeing to complete Officer Candidate School (OCS), a requirement which is not waivable. The scholarship provided that if Kennedy failed to complete the requirements, he could become liable to reimburse the program. Kennedy subsequently suffered trauma and began to act abnormally. During his OCS course, his platoon commander recommended that Kennedy be disenrolled as emotionally unstable. In June 2006, a Commanding Officer’s Board disenrolled Kennedy from OCS without opportunity to return. NROTC stopped funding Kennedy’s education. In February 2007, the Assistant Secretary approved disenrollment with recoupment of $50,675. After graduation from GWU in 2007, Kennedy graduated from law school, was admitted to the bar, and filed suit. The Claims Court directed the case to the Board for Correction of Naval Records (BCNR), a civilian body that exists to correct Naval Records. The BCNR upheld Kennedy’s disenrollment, but held that Kennedy should be relieved from reimbursement because he had been dissuaded from appearing at a hearing. The Claims Court held that Kennedy’s disenrollment was lawful and that his breach-of-contract claims for monetary relief lacked merit. The Federal Circuit reversed. Given the government’s concession that Kennedy’s due process rights were violated when he was dissuaded from attending his hearing, the Claims Court erred in concluding that Kennedy’s disenrollment was inevitable. The court directed the case be returned to the BCNR. View "Kennedy v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Budget Control Act of 2011 established spending limits for federal agencies and required automatic spending cuts (sequestration) if certain deficit reduction legislation was not enacted. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 required the President to issue a sequestration order near the middle of fiscal year 2013. Under President Obama’s sequestration the Department of Defense (DOD) 2013 budget was cut by approximately 37 billion dollars, to be absorbed over six months. The DOD reprogrammed funds, reduced facility maintenance, eliminated some military training exercises, and furloughed civilian workers. Calhoun is a non-excepted civilian Doctrine Defense Specialist for the Army Cyber Command (ACC). ACC Commander Lt. Gen. Hernandez, the deciding official, delegated that authority to his Chief of Staff, Col. Sanborn. Calhoun received a Notice of Proposed Furlough. Calhoun replied, including budget proposals she asserted would prevent furloughs. In responses to Calhoun, Col. Sanborn stated that he had read her submissions and that “[t]he furlough guidance … is clear.” Calhoun was furloughed for six nonconsecutive days. An administrative judge found that delegation to Col. Sanborn did not violate DOD policy; that Col. Sanborn appropriately considered Calhoun’s reply; and that evaluation of the merits of her proposals was beyond the scope of his review. The Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit affirmed, finding no due process violation because Col. Sanborn considered Calhoun’s written reply and because a summary of her oral reply would not have altered the furlough decision. View "Calhoun v. Department of the Army" on Justia Law