Articles Posted in Military Law

by
To receive disability compensation based on service, a veteran must demonstrate that the disability was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, 38 U.S.C. 101(16). Congress has enacted presumptive service connection laws to protect certain veterans who faced exposure to chemical toxins but would find it difficult to prove a “nexus” between their exposure and their disease. Under the Agent Orange Act, 38 U.S.C. 1116, any veteran who served in Vietnam during the Vietnam era and who suffers from any designated disease “shall be presumed to have been exposed during such service” to herbicides. The VA determines which diseases qualify for presumptive service connection and defines service in Vietnam. Absent on-land service, the VA concluded that the statute did not authorize presumptive service connection for veterans serving in the open waters surrounding Vietnam. The Federal Circuit upheld that position in 2007. In 2016, the VA amended its M21-1 procedures manual to also exclude veterans who served in bays, harbors, and ports of Vietnam. The VA did not implement this additional restriction by way of notice and comment regulation as it did its open waters restriction and has not published its view on this issue in the Federal Register. The Federal Circuit rejected a challenge for lack of jurisdiction. The VA’s revisions are not agency actions reviewable under 38 U.S.C. 502. The M21-1 Manual provisions are only binding on Veterans Benefits Administration employees. View "Gray v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

by
TRICARE provides current and former members of the military and their dependents' medical and dental care. Hospitals that provide TRICARE services are reimbursed under Department of Defense (DoD) guidelines. TRICARE previously did not require, DoD to use Medicare reimbursement rules. A 2001 amendment, 10 U.S.C. 1079(j)(2), required TRICARE to use those rules to the extent practicable. DoD regulations noted the complexities of the transition process and the lack of comparable cost report data and stated “it is not practicable” to “adopt Medicare OPPS for hospital outpatient services at this time.” A study, conducted after hospitals complained, determined that DoD underpaid for outpatient radiology but correctly reimbursed other outpatient services. TRICARE created a process for review of radiology payments. Each plaintiff-hospital requested a discretionary payment, which required them to release “all claims . . . known or unknown” related to TRICARE payments. Several refused to sign the release and did not receive any payments. Although it discovered calculation errors with respect to hospitals represented by counsel, TRICARE did not recalculate payments for any hospitals that did not contest their discretionary payment offer. The Claims Court dismissed the hospitals’ suit. The Federal Circuit reversed in part, finding that they may bring a claim for breach of contract but may not bring money-mandating claims under 10 U.S.C. 1079(j)(2) and 32 C.F.R. 199.7(h)(2) because the government’s interpretation of the statute was reasonable. View "Ingham Regional Medical Center v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Goodman served in the U.S. Army, 1972-1992, with service in Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf War. During his service and at his discharge, Goodman underwent medical examinations that returned negative for rheumatoid arthritis; he denied having pain in his joints or arthritis. In 2007, Goodman sought treatment at a VA medical center for hand stiffness and knee pain, which he said had begun during service. He sought VA benefits for rheumatoid arthritis. The Board sought an independent medical advisory opinion from the Veterans Health Administration, which was conducted by a VA medical center Director of Rheumatology in 2014 and concluded that “it is less likely than not” that Goodman’s rheumatoid arthritis can be characterized as a medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness (MUCMI) under 38 C.F.R. 3.317, and that it “is less likely than not that his rheumatoid arthritis is related to a specific exposure event experienced … during service. The Board concluded that Goodman was not entitled to a presumptive service connection for a MUCMI; the Federal Circuit affirmed. The VA adjudicator may consider evidence of medical expert opinions and all other facts of record to make the final determination of whether a claimant has proven, based on the claimant’s unique symptoms, the existence of a MUCMI. View "Goodman v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

by
Kisor served in the Marine Corps from 1962-1966. In 1982, he sought disability compensation benefits for PTSD with the Portland, Oregon VA Regional Office (RO), which received a letter from a Vet Center counselor, expressing concerns that Kisor had “depression, suicidal thoughts, and social withdraw[a]l.” In 1983, the RO obtained a psychiatric examination for Kisor, which noted that Kisor had served in Vietnam; that he had participated in “Operation Harvest Moon”; that he was on a search operation when his company came under attack; that he reported several contacts with snipers and occasional mortar rounds fired into his base of operation; and that he “was involved in one major ambush which resulted in 13 deaths in a large company.” The examiner expressed his “distinct impression” that Kisor suffered from “a personality disorder as opposed to PTSD,” which cannot be a basis for service connection. Kisor did not pursue an appeal. In 2006, Kisor submitted a request to reopen and presented a 2007 report of a psychiatric evaluation diagnosing PTSD. He was granted a 50% rating. The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed that Kisor was not entitled to an effective date earlier than June 2006 for the PTSD. Kisor’s remedy for the earlier denial would have been an appeal. View "Kisor v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

by
Lt. Harris has been an officer in the Navy since 2005. He was arrested by civilian authorities in 2013 for sexual offenses involving minors and was held in confinement until his 2015 conviction and sentencing. Between his arrest and conviction, the Navy withheld Harris’s pay pending the outcome of his criminal proceedings. Based on his conviction, the Navy determined that, under the Military Pay Act, 37 U.S.C. 204, and Department of Defense regulations, Harris’s absence was unexcused and he was not entitled to any pay for his absence during confinement. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal of his suit, in which he sought back pay, challenged the civilian court’s jurisdiction to convict him, and claimed due process violations. Harris failed to state a claim under the Military Pay Act because he was convicted of his crimes, and was not entitled to pay during his unexcused absence. Harris failed to state a due process claim because he was not statutorily eligible to receive pay during his detention; the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments were not implicated. The Claims Court lacked jurisdiction to review the jurisdiction of civilian authorities to prosecute and convict him as a military service member. View "Harris v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Gazelle served in the U.S. Army, 1962-1965, and incurred service-connected disabilities. He receives compensation for: degenerative disc disease and joint disease of the cervical spine rated at 20 percent; degenerative disc disease and spondylosis of the thoracolumbar spine rated at 20 percent; left upper extremity radiculopathy rated at 10 percent; left lower extremity radiculopathy rated at percent; and post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2009, the VA increased Gazelle’s disability rating for his service-connected PTSD to 100 percent. Gazelle filed a Notice of Disagreement, alleging the VA failed to award him additional special monthly compensation under 38 U.S.C. 1114(s)(1). In 2011, Gazelle was denied entitlement to special monthly compensation because he did not have additional service-connected “disabilities . . . independently ratable as [60 percent] or more disabling.” Instead of adding together Gazelle’s additional service-connected disabilities at their respective amounts, the VA calculated the independent additional rating via the combined ratings table pursuant to 38 C.F.R. 4.25 (2010), which resulted in a combined rating of 50 percent. In 2014, the Board affirmed. The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that consistent with the plain meaning of subsection 1114(s), the Board appropriately applied the combined ratings table to determine eligibility for special monthly compensation benefits. View "Gazelle v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

by
Manzanares served on active duty, 1986-1991. In 1992, she was awarded service connection for a history of stress fractures in both legs, with a non-compensable rating. In 2006, she sought an increased rating. The VA assigned a 10-percent rating for each ankle, with a February 2006 effective date. Manzanares filed a notice of disagreement and claimed: “[e]ntitlement to service connection for degenerative disc disease lumbar spine as secondary to bilateral ankle disabilities.” The VA granted secondary service connection for “degenerative arthritis and disc disease, lumbar spine” with a rating of 20 percent and an April 2007 effective date. Manzanares argued that the VA should have awarded a February 2006 effective date for the secondary service-connected condition, citing 38 C.F.R. 3.156(b), which provides that, for a pending claim, “[n]ew and material evidence received prior to the expiration of the appeal period . . . will be considered as having been filed in connection with the claim which was pending at the beginning of the appeal period.” The Board of Veterans’ Appeals, Veterans Court, and Federal Circuit rejected her argument. The effective date for service connection is the later of the date the VA receives the claim or the date that entitlement arose; Manzanares’s secondary service claim was not filed until April 2007 and was not part of the ankle claim. View "Manzanares v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

by
Johnson served in the Army, 1970-1971. In 2008, the VA granted Johnson a 30% rating for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a 10% rating for tinea corporis, a skin condition which Johnson described as jungle rot under Diagnostic Code (DC) 7806. The Board of Veterans Appeals increased his PTSD rating to 70% and remanded with respect to his skin condition. After several rounds of review, the Board denied Johnson’s request for an increased rating for tinea corporis in 2014, finding that Johnson’s skin condition affected only a limited area of his body, and his topical corticosteroid treatment of that area did not qualify as a “systemic therapy” under DC 7806. The Veterans Court held that DC 7806 unambiguously defines a topical corticosteroid treatment as “systemic therapy” rather than “topical therapy.” The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that the Veterans Court gave an overly broad reading of the term “systemic therapy” in DC 7806 that encompasses any and all forms of topical corticosteroid treatment. The court noted that Johnson did not challenge factual findings that his use of topical corticosteroids affected only the area to which he applied treatment and did not affect his body as a whole, and reinstated the Board’s findings. View "Johnson v. Shulkin" on Justia 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