Supreme Court Dismisses Air Force Veteran’s Appeal Dispute Over VA Benefits
On Monday, The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) dismissed a veteran’s appeal of a lower court decision that barred him from receiving VA benefits for a few years. Thomas Buffington, a US Air Force Veteran, initially received compensation until he was called back to active duty for two years. When he reapplied in 2009, the VA only gave him one year of retroactive payments and denied his right to previous benefits from 2005 to 2008.
Thomas Buffington served in the US Air Force for over nine years before being honorably discharged in 2000. During his service, he developed tinnitus, or when you experience ringing in your ears. Buffington’s medical condition left him eligible for VA benefits, and he received a 10% disability rating.
However, when he was called back to active duty from 2003 to 2005, he received active duty pay, so he didn’t receive benefits during this time. By the time he went to reapply in 2009, the VA court would only reimburse him for one year of compensation along with his monthly payment. The lower court’s decision was based on a rule that veterans have a grace period of up to one year to submit their claims. Since Buffington waited four years to reapply, the lower court gave him a payout for the previous year but denied his right to retroactive benefits from 2005 to 2008.
The main issue with the Buffington case is that while it took three years to reclaim VA benefits, the veteran had already filed a claim and received them before returning to active duty. Given the ambiguity of the case, Buffington took his claim to the Supreme Court. After hearing his argument, the Supreme Court ultimately argued in favor of the VA court. The majority opinion cited the “Chevron deference,” which leaves the final decision to the government agency so long as they deem their ruling reasonable.
What This Means For Veterans Going Forward
As Roman Martinez, one of Buffington’s lawyers, previously explained to the court, “experience has shown that Chevron’s deference regime is wrong, leads to arbitrary decisions, and undermines the stable development of law.”
It can be difficult for a court to determine an appropriate ruling in ambiguous cases like this. However, the Supreme Court can give a more precise interpretation of the law in favor of the veteran. By deferring the verdict, they can leave many vulnerable veterans without the benefits they are entitled to.
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