Court Okays Extending Claim Deadlines
By Ben Krause
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
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.