The Federal Circuit is the highest court to which veterans can appeal by right for benefits. In 2009, the Federal Circuit decided eighty-seven veterans cases (twelve percent of its overall docket). Twenty-six of those decisions were precedential opinions. There are approximately 23.4 million veterans in the United States, more than three million of whom receive disability compensation. And with two ongoing wars, plans to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps, and recent legislation impacting the veterans claims process, the Federal Circuit will likely see an increase in veterans cases in the coming years.
Part I of this article summarizes the eligibility criteria for veterans benefits and the process by which a veteran’s claim reaches the Federal Circuit. Part II explains the jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit with respect to veterans cases. Part III analyzes one Supreme Court and nine Federal Circuit cases from 2009 that are important to veterans benefits practitioners. These cases address, inter alia, issues that arise from the Department of Veterans Affairs’s duty to assist veterans with their claims, whether veterans have a Fifth Amendment due process right to a claim for benefits, equitable tolling of the deadlines for appealing benefits decisions, and the retroactive assignment of disability ratings.
Miguel F. Eaton, Sumon Dantiki & Paul R. Gugliuzza, Ten Federal Circuit Cases from 2009 That Veterans Benefits Attorneys Should Know, 59 Am. Univ. L. Rev. 1155 (2010), available at http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/251