Court Okays Extending Claim Deadlines
By Ben Krause                 
The Supreme Court's recent decision, means that disabled veterans' appeals may now be considered after the 120-day filing deadline passes. In the ruling on Henderson v. Shinseki, the Supreme Court concluded that the 120-day limit was not intended to carry the harsh consequences of the "jurisdictional tag." For veterans, this means deadlines related to filing appeals and other claims have increased flexibility, in certain situations.                        
Before the deci­sion, fil­ing exten­sions for appeals were not com­monly allowed (referred to as “tolling”). Once the fil­ing dead­line passed, 120 days after an adverse deci­sion for Mr. Hen­der­son, the appeal option was no longer avail­able for that claim. With the new deci­sion, vet­er­ans will be allowed more flex­i­bil­ity with fil­ing dead­lines, espe­cially when the vet­eran is too sick to file in time. Vet­er­ans with Trau­matic Brain Injuries or psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders who miss fil­ing dead­lines may be allowed exten­sions. Pre­vi­ously, the VA con­sid­ered the major­ity of these claims to be “expired” because the time limit of the rule had passed. In other words, fil­ing dead­lines are no longer con­sid­ered absolute dead­lines.                          
In this case, Mr. Hen­der­son missed the appeal dead­line by 15 days because he was sick. How­ever, the VA con­cluded that his ill­ness did not keep him from appeal­ing in a timely man­ner. For that rea­son, they denied his appeal, which was later upheld by the US Court of Appeals for Vet­er­ans Claims and the Fed­eral Cir­cuit. Hen­der­son died last Octo­ber, prior to this deci­sion. For­tu­nately for his widow, the Supreme Court decided the VA’s appli­ca­tion of a fil­ing dead­line con­tra­dicted Con­gres­sional intent. Con­gres­sional intent for dis­abil­ity claims holds that vet­er­ans’ claims are to be treated in a non-adversarial man­ner. As such, a non-adversarial sys­tem would allow a sick vet­eran to miss a dead­line by 15 days. This same sys­tem would allow other excep­tions to the rules estab­lish­ing time lim­its for jus­ti­fi­able rea­sons. Thus, any dead­line for vet­er­ans’ claims is no longer absolute, depend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion. Accord­ingly, the Court reversed the ear­lier deci­sions that con­tra­dicted this analy­sis.
Vet­er­ans’ claims for dis­abil­ity com­pen­sa­tion are unique to other admin­is­tra­tive and judi­cial claims processes, because the VA process is sup­posed to be a “pro-veteran admin­is­tra­tive scheme.” There­fore, when there is a “tie” relat­ing to weighted evi­dence (ie two doc­tors say oppos­ing things about a veteran’s con­di­tion, one for the vet­eran and the other against), the deci­sion is sup­posed to fall in favor of the vet­eran. Fur­ther, Con­gress never intended for pro­ce­dural dead­lines to be absolute, con­trary to other areas of law. Vet­er­ans, depend­ing on the specifics of their claim’s sta­tus, can now push for exten­sions that were oth­er­wise pre­vented. While the VA rep­u­ta­tion, “Delay, deny, hope that I die,” strat­egy worked here, Henderson’s widow will hope­fully see a just end to her husband’s fight, which started in 2001.


The les­son? Never give up.

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