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U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims - Further Readings

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After nearly four decades of debate on the subject, Congress exercised its power under Article I of the Constitution and passed the Veterans Judicial Review Act of 1988 (VJRA) (102 Stat. 4105 [38 U.S.C.A. § 4051] [recodified at 38 U.S.C.A. § 7252 (1991)]). Originally called the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals, the new court came into existence on November 18, 1988, the day President GEORGE H. W. BUSH signed the VJRA. Subsequent legislation changed the name of the court on March 1, 1999, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

One of several specialized federal courts established by Congress under Article I—including the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and the U.S. Tax Court—the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims exercises exclusive jurisdiction over the decisions of the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). People seeking veterans' benefits who are turned down by the BVA may appeal their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Claimants may further avail themselves of the judiciary by appealing unfavorable U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims decisions to the limited review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and ultimately to the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES.

In the mid-1980s, 75 million U.S. citizens—one-third of the population of the United States—were eligible for some form of veterans' benefits. Then, as in the early 2000s, war veterans and their dependents and survivors could apply to one of the 58 regional offices of the VETERANS ADMINISTRATION (VA) for disability, loan eligibility, education, and other benefits. In an average year in the 1980s, nearly 800,000 disability claims were filed, about half of which were granted by the regional offices. Before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims was created, people whose claims were turned down had limited recourse, which did not include review by a court of law. If a regional office of the VA denied a claim, the claimant could appeal that decision within the VA to the BVA. If the BVA denied the appeal—which it did in about 75 percent of cases—the claimant had just one remaining option: to reopen the claim on the basis of new and material evidence and begin the process over again.

Consisting of one chief judge and two to six associate judges—all appointed to a term of 15 years by the president of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate—the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has the "power to affirm, modify, or reverse a decision of the [BVA] or to remand the matter, as appropriate" (38 U.S.C.A. § 4051 (a) [recodified at 38 U.S.C.A. § 7252 (a) (1991)]). (When a court remands a case, it sends the case back to the lower court or, in the instance of the BVA, ruling body.) The Veterans Appeals Court's primary mission, according to Associate Judge John J. Farley, is to review cases for errors of law. As an appellate court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims cannot hear new testimony or allow new evidence to be introduced in a case. Cases are heard by judges sitting alone, in panels of three, or en banc (all together).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims heard its first case—Erspamer v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 3, 58 U.S.L.W. 2556—in February 1990. Jean A. Erspamer, the widow of Ernest Erspamer, a Minnesota veteran exposed to radiation during atomic bomb tests in the Pacific in 1946, asked the court to compel the VA to take action on her claims for disability compensation and death benefits. Erspamer's husband had in June 1979 filed with the VA a claim for service-connected disability payments. After he died of leukemia in 1980, Erspamer continued to seek VA benefits and was eventually successful in her quest—after the Veterans Appeals Court heard her case.

In July 1999 the court issued a decision which held that the VETERANS AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT (VA) did not have a duty to assist veterans in developing their claims unless those claims were "well-grounded." In response Congress passed the Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) of 2000 (Pub.L. 106-475, Nov. 9, 2000, 114 Stat. 2096). Signed into law by President BILL CLINTON in November 2000, the act eliminated the "well-grounded" language and stated that the VA was required to provide assistance in developing claims unless there was no reasonable possibility that VA aid would help the veteran's claim.

Based in Washington, D.C., but able to convene anywhere in the country, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims can only decide cases or controversies presented to it. The court is not a policy-making body and thus may not conduct policy actions, such as reviewing the VA schedule of disability ratings. While most of the cases heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims concern issues of entitlement to disability or survivor's benefits, the court has also heard cases relating to education benefits, life insurance, and home foreclosures.

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about 7 years ago

My QUE claim for the same issue was denied by the BVA twice after Court ordered remands. Eliminate the powerless Court of Appeals since the BVA can do whatever they please!

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over 6 years ago

I retired from the Army, then worked for the usps for eight years and retired, was treated like garbage. Put in for Unemployable benefits it 1997. Still waiting. Our Federal Government is failing us. Wrote John MCcain in 1997, 1998, and he did nothing. If you want to know he is a good man, and a good veteran, but he is right in Arizona, and left in Washington. Wake up America, Vote these Rhino's out. Vote JD Hayworth, and for the general who was just fired for not being a yes man.General on the ballet. Don't let it get you down. After 28 years of government and treated like a piece of garbage from unions and government personnel who don't like veterans due to their minds of they don't need a 100% of their retirement why John MCcain, and congress gets a 100% salary and benefits.

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over 8 years ago

My claimis 6 years old. I have (14), no typo, yes (14) VA physicians that agree I have service connected PTSD. The common threads in all these postings is the CAVC rarely reverses the VA's decisions. They remand on a n error by th VA. The VA cleans up the error and denys the claim again and the cycle begons over. The other common thread is the VA convenientky losing the veteran's records when there is no other proof available,the records "disappear" leaving no proof. This is known to everyone, including Congress, bu tnothingis done. The VA is failing the veterans like the banks have failed home owners, but there is no "bail out" to help the veterans, as COngress is going to leave September 26th to go home and campaign leaving critical veteran legislation unaddressed. We should clean house and eliminate all the incumbents, but they know that will not happen, so they leave the veterans to continue struggling with an adversarial VA claims system. The VA hopes you give up or die. We call it the delay, deny and hope that you die claims policy. Keep fighting...That is the only way we will ever succeed.

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almost 9 years ago

I'm a black female vet whose been plague with abuses of the law and prejudices, since 1977. (spoilation) For 23 years, the Regional office lost my C-file. They denied me increases based on that missing file. In 1993, I was denied an increased based on my open heart surgery, which the RO stated that my open heart surgery wasn't considered major. They went in thru my right breast wall, which I have extensive nerve damage, which was also denied, the RO stated that I didn't lose my breast due to cancer. I was also denied PSTD, they stated that I had a personality disorder. After the denial I contacted the media and the newspapers, because if this wasn't proof of the prejudice treatment that myself and other veterans has put up with for years. While appealing my case up popped the 1977 missing records. The RO office sent them to the Cheif of Cardiology for his expert opinion on when did this problem manifest itself. He wrote since 1977. But the RO didn't know I had a copy of his memo, so they gave me an increase as of 1993. Then I appealed this decision to BVA, for an earlier affected date. After my hearing, the Board remaned this case three times. There were five issues, and they kept this case for ten more years. Even after I filed an appeal to three of the decisions,(the RO office stated that they had to send it back to the Board because they hadn't finished with it yet). The Board never mentioned that the appeal was swnt to the wrong place. After ten years I filed a CUE with the Chairman, his office took 3 more years. Now my case is at the courts and I filed this 2-04, for two issues that were decided on the same day. The BVA attorney, kept this case for two years back in forth dealing with one issue. Until the Judge found out that they overlooked the other issue. But not only did they use excuses like, becuase I had a 7 volume case they could not find certain papers which I had put in the counter designation of records, my case was so huge that they were short of staff and that was the reason why it was taking so long,(Xmas time). Then they had to give my case to another attorney becuase the original one had took extensive medical leave. Here it's now 2008, and my case has just went to a judge in 2-20008. Now it's 30 years later, and still I'm waiting, why is it that the VA system, gets away with this kind of treatment?

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over 9 years ago

My first appeal to the US Court two years ago was remanded to the BVA. The BVA denied that claim. I appealed to the US Court a second time with the issue being CUE. Now, after 15 months, the US Court today sent me a notice that the BVA's decision was vacated and the claim is again remanded to the BVA. I am worried that the BVA is going to do the same thing and deny me as it did the first time. Isn't it true that the US Court has authority over the Board when the Board doesn't follow the correct adjudication procedure? It seems more like the BVA has jurisdiction over the US Court because it has the final decision. If the US Court is correct, and the Board renders its own negative decision once again, isn't it true my only recourse would be to appeal it again to the US Court? What if the BVA doesn't treat my remand expeditiously as the Court says it should? Is there an approximite time frame when it comes to expeditious handling of a claim?