Case Law Sources

The U.S. Supreme Court

Although the U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, it has rarely ruled on issues of veterans law. Below are the most notable cases from recent decades:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

The Federal Circuit has limited jurisdiction to review legal rulings by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in veterans benefits cases, but is not permitted to review factual determinations or the application of law to fact. 38 U.S.C. § 7292. Administrative Procedure Act (APA) challenges to VA rulemaking may also be brought directly to the Federal Circuit.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims

The CAVC is an Article I court that conducts independent judicial review of claims that have been denied by VA. The Secretary may not appeal to the CAVC. The CAVC may decide cases either by a single judge or by a panel. Panel decisions are published in the Veterans Appeals Reporter and are binding on VA and the CAVC.

Other Federal Courts

A few groups have pursued class action lawsuits against VA. One recent decision is Veterans for Common Sense v. Peake, 563 F. Supp. 2d 1049 (N.D. Cal. 2008). Although the judge rejected the suit, the 44-page decision discusses evidence from VA officials in detail and makes numerous findings about the system.

That ruling was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit issued a 140-page opinion on May 11, 2011, which held that VA's systems for handling the mental health needs of veterans with PTSD and for processing appeals of regional office decisions on benefits claims. The opinion indicates that the district court may need to take over VA operations to remedy the violations. [download .pdf]