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:
- Henderson v. Shinseki, 562 U.S. 428 (2011) (holding that the time period to file a Notice of Appeal with the CAVC can be equitably tolled).
- Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396 (2009) (holding that veterans benefits cases follow the ordinary rule that appellant's generally have the burden of proving that a procedural error was prejudicial).
- Brown v. Gardner, 513 U.S. 115 (1994) (abrogated by statute) (holding that 38 U.S.C. § 1151 (1994) provides compensation for any veteran injured by VA medical care, regardless of whether VA was negligent).
- Traynor v. Turnage, 485 U.S. 535 (1988) (holding that Congress may deny benefits based upon a veteran's alcoholism).
- Walters v. Nat'l Ass'n of Radiation Survivors, 473 U.S. 305 (1985) (holding that veterans do not have a due process right to hire attorneys to help them file benefits claims).
- Johnson v. Robison, 415 U.S. 361 (1974) (holding that equal protection is not violated by denying veterans benefits to conscientious objectors who perform alternative service).
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.
- Recent Federal Circuit decisions are here. The veterans benefits cases are listed under the origin "CAVC".
- Upcoming arguments at the Federal Circuit are listed here. The veterans benefits cases have "CAVC" after the docket number.
- Audio of Federal Circuit arguments is available here.
- Statistics on the Federal Circuit's workload are available here.
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.
- Recent CAVC decisions are available here.
- Upcoming arguments at the CAVC are listed here.
- Audio of CAVC arguments is available here.
- Statistics on the CAVC's workload are available here.
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]