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Supreme Court Unanimously Rejects Veterans’ Challenge To Disability Claims Deadline

In their first ruling of 2023, The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) unanimously rejected a veteran’s argument regarding retroactive benefits. Despite his medical condition not letting him file a claim, the Supreme Court followed the VA’s official deadlines, and his case didn’t qualify for the “equitable tolling” exception.

The Case

Adolfo Arellano, a former US Navy Veteran, took his case to the Supreme Court last year after being rejected by the US Court of Appeals For Veterans Claims and a divided ruling in the US Court Of Appeals For the Federal Circuit.

Ever since he was involved in a boat accident in the navy, Arellano had severe PTSD, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. Battling with his mental illnesses left him unable to access his benefits for over 30 years. It wasn’t until 2011 when his brother helped Arellano file a claim, and VA doctors gave him a total disability score.

Even though he currently receives full VA benefits, Arellano still felt his case would be eligible for the “equitable tolling” exception due to his condition. Courts use equitable tolling when someone if someone has been taking steps to file a claim, but an “exceptional circumstance” holds them back from submitting one after the deadline.

The Ruling

After Arellano and his lawyers brought the case to SCOTUS, they also concluded that his situation would not fall under the equitable tolling exception.

Justice Amy Comey Barrett, writing for the court, agreed with the Federal Circuit Court’s decision that equitable tolling does not apply to Section 5110(b)(1), the official one-year rule. She argued that Congress did not “throw the door wide open” for equitable tolling, as only 16 specific exceptions apply.

The court also reviewed the United States vs. Brockcamp case, in which Congress laid out specific factors for equitable tolling. According to that ruling, it didn’t expect the VA or any other courts to add more provisions. Even if these provisions created exceptions for pensions, they did not do the same for VA benefits.

Since Arellano’s case did fall under any of these categories, SCOTUS followed these guidelines and denied him retroactive benefits.

What This Means For Veterans Going Forward

Thousands of veterans were following this case to see if there would be a more flexible interpretation of the one-year rule. However, this case reinforces the VA’s original decision. Even if you have a severe illness or exceptional circumstance, you must file for benefits as soon as possible. Additionally, all military branches must be more proactive in offering veterans the information they need before it’s too late.

If you’re a veteran seeking benefits, our veterans’ disability lawyers can help you file a successful claim. Please contact us using our online form or call us at 855-280-7585 to schedule your free case review today.

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