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Supreme Court Hears Case Regarding Equitable Tolling For Veterans With Disabilities

Last Tuesday, The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard a veteran’s case regarding his retroactive benefits going back over 40 years. Adolfo Arellano, a US Navy veteran, developed PTSD due to his trauma, and his mental state left him unable to comprehend that he was eligible for VA benefits.

The Case

Adolfo Arellano served in the US Navy from 1977 to 1981, when he was honorably discharged due to mental illness. In 1980, Arellano and his shipmates were involved in a collision that killed and injured most of them. This traumatic event left the veteran with severe PTSD and other mental illnesses like schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder. These disorders can cause long-term effects that affect a person’s judgment. 

Arellano’s condition left him unable to apply for the benefits he needed until 2011 when his brother filed on his behalf. The VA doctors also gave Arellano a total disability score based on his mental illness, which made him eligible for maximum compensation. However, Arellano has been unable to receive the benefits he was entitled to for over 30 years. Because of his mental illness during this time, Arellano’s lawyers are arguing for equitable tolling on his behalf. This concept would give him an exception to any time limits given to veterans applying for benefits, making him eligible for any back pay since his discharge.

The Ruling

Arellano and his lawyers brought the case to the US Court of Appeals For Veterans Claims and the US Court Of Appeals For the Federal Circuit last year. However, both denied his right to retroactive benefits, which is why he took his case to the Supreme Court. Now that the SCOTUS judges have heard their argument, they need to review the evidence, and it will take at least several months to reach a final decision.

The current law lets veterans apply for benefits at any point in their lives, and they have a one-year grace period after being discharged to apply. If a veteran applies after that timeframe, they’ll only be eligible for benefits starting from the filing date. If the judges rule in favor of Arellano, however, he can qualify for over $600,000 in retroactive benefits dating back to when he was discharged.

Why Veterans Should Pay Attention To This Case

Many veterans suffering from serious health conditions may not be capable of understanding the claims process. These issues cause them to miss out on thousands of dollars in compensation because they could not apply sooner. If SCOTUS rules in Arellano’s favor,  it can set the foundation for many vulnerable veterans to appeal their cases and possibly receive retroactive benefits.

We Are Here To Help

If you’re a veteran who needs help filing a claim to get the benefits you deserve, our veterans’ disability lawyers are here to guide you through the process. Call us at 855-208-7783 or submit an online intake form if you have any questions or want to schedule your free initial consultation. We serve Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and more.

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