Supreme Court rejects Air Force veteran’s appeal in VA benefits case


The Supreme Court declined to hear an Air Force veteran’s appeal Monday that challenged the Department of Veterans Affairs’ authority to deny him some disability benefits.

The court’s decision to stay out of the case sidesteps a new challenge to the so-called administrative state, a move that will frustrate conservatives who want to curtail the power of federal agencies.

Judge Neil Gorsuch dissented from the court’s denial, writing that the VA’s “flawed rules harm a broad swath of disabled veterans” and that they “served this nation well.”

Air Force veteran Thomas Buffington was diagnosed with a disability and became eligible for disability benefits in 2000. In 2003, he was transferred to active duty in the Air National Guard. In accordance with the law, he stopped receiving benefits during that period, so that they would not be charged twice.

When he was permanently terminated from active duty in 2005, he waited a couple of years and then applied for retroactive disability benefits for the periods he did not receive active duty pay. But the Department of Veterans Affairs said it had made a regulation that such a request had to be made within a year and that it had waited too long.

Buffington challenged the department, calling the actions “arbitrary” and not based on the statutory text governing disability payments.

But a federal court lost in 1984’s Chevron v. When he cited a Supreme Court case called NRDC. The “Chevron doctrine” sets forth factors to determine when courts should defer to a government agency’s interpretation of a statute.

On a case-by-case basis, when courts review an agency action, they must first consider whether the law is ambiguous. If not, the analysis ends. However, if the language is unclear, a court examines whether the agency’s action is a reasonable interpretation of the law. Some conservatives have criticized the doctrine, arguing that courts should not defer to agencies.

Buffington’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to overturn Chevron.

“After 37 years, experience has shown that the Chevron regime is flawed, unworkable in practice, leads to arbitrary and subjective decisions, and actually undermines the steady development of the law,” Buffington attorney Roman Martinez told the court. .

He said the court should adopt a separate legal doctrine that excludes veterans’ rights.