Veteran misses filing deadline due to mental illness: Fair?

A U.S. veteran from Maine was denied veteran’s benefits, and argues he was unable to file an appeal because of a mental disability. 

The case was argued before the Supreme Court earlier this month. 

Francis M. Jackson, a veterans’ disability benefits attorney from Maine explained the case is so important “because it raises issues of substantive due process and essential fairness.”  To make clear the injustice at issue, Jackson pointed to the fact that the appellant was unable to meet the deadline due to a service-connected disability.  But will things bode well for the Veteran? Just three years ago, the Court held that a convicted murderer could not appeal after he filed just two days late.  However, in that case the judge misinterpreted the deadline as set forth by Congress.  

Veterans’ disability compensation is paid to vets who are injured as a result of their service to the country.  If denied a request for benefits, the veteran has 120 days to file a notice of intent to appeal. 
The case is Henderson v. Shinseki (No. 09-1036).  Mr. Henderson is veteran who developed paranoid schizophrenia while serving in the Korean War.  Mr. Henderson was denied home care by the Veteran’s Administration, after which he filed his notice of appeal 15 days late.  His lawyer says his disability prevented him from meeting the deadline.
Henderson’s view: The 120-day time limit can be extended by a judge in the event that fairness and justice would require it.  The contention is that since the entire process was created by Congress for veterans to be treated justly and fairly, the 120-day limit was not meant to be rigid and unyielding.
Shinseki’s view (The Secretary of Veterans Affairs): The 120-day time period IS to be strictly applied.  Thus, any changes must come from Congress itself.
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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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