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The Law of Veterans Benefits 2008 - 2010


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The Law of Veterans Benefits 2008 - 2010

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This document aims to identify the most significant decisions in veterans' law between 2008-2010.

‘The two-year period addressed in this article has been a busy time for the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (“Veterans Court” or “Court”) 2 as well as in veterans’ law generally. A new Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“Department” or VA) is under a new administration. Congress has been active in passing important legislation and its oversight role. The Veterans Court celebrated ‘the twentieth anniversary of its first convening with a wonderful ceremony in October 2009. And not to be outdone, for only the third time, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) decided a case originating in the Veterans Court.”

 

Michael P. Allen1 

INTRODUCTION

The two-year period addressed in this article has been a busy time for the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (“Veterans Court” or “Court”)2 as well as in veterans’ law generally. There is a new Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“Department” or VA) in a new administration.3 Congress has been active in the area both in passing important legislation4 and in engaging in its oversight role.5 The Veterans Court celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its first convening with a wonderful ceremony in October 2009. And not to be outdone, for only the third time, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) decided a case originating in the Veterans Court.6

As anyone practicing in the area of veterans’ law knows all too well, it is impossible to discuss everything of importance that has occurred in the period from 2008 through 2010. One reason, of course, is that “importance” may very well be in the eye of the beholder. More significantly, the reality is that both the Veterans Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Federal Circuit) have remained very busy places. In 2008, the Veterans Court received 4,128 new appeals and decided a total of 4,446 cases.7 In 2009, the Veterans Court received 4,725 new appeals and decided a total of 4,379 cases.8 In fiscal year 2008, the Federal Circuit received 170 veterans’ law cases (plus 3 direct regulatory challenges) and adjudicated a total of 107 cases by way of merits panels.9 In fiscal year 2009, the Federal Circuit received 156 appeals in veterans’ law cases (plus 1 direct regulatory challenge) and decided 95 cases by merits panels.10

My goal here is to identify the most significant decisions in veterans’ law over the past two years. Recognizing the impossibility of addressing every decision rendered by the Veterans Court and the Federal Circuit during this period, I was able to 

capture what most practitioners would agree are the major matters on which these two courts have opined. In this regard, I read and reviewed every precedential decision of the Veterans Court from February 1, 2008 through April 30, 2010 and all Federal Circuit decisions from this period (both precedential and non-precedential) in the area of veterans’ law. Finally, I reviewed decisions from the Supreme Court having applicability in the veterans’ law area.11

Based on my review of these sources, I grouped the significant developments over the past two years into eleven categories: issues concerning (1) appellate timing (both within the Department and to the Veterans Court) as well as related jurisdictional issues; (2) what constitutes a “claim” under relevant law; (3) the Department’s duties of notice to claimants;12 (4) the Department’s duties to assist claimants; (5) medical examinations and evidence; (6) ratings decisions; (7) clear and unmistakable error along with matters concerning the duty to sympathetically read veterans’ pleadings; (8) attorneys’ fees; (9) claimants’ due process rights; (10) the general structure of the system for the award and review of veterans’ benefits; and (11) certain miscellaneous, but independently significant, matters. In Part I below, I address each of these categories in turn.13

After addressing the specific areas in which there have been significant developments over the past two years, I turn in Part II to distilling the common themes from the various substantive areas I addressed in Part I14 and highlighting some areas in which I suspect there will be development over the next two years.15

Read the complete document here


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