Supreme Court Ruling Unintentionally Harmed Disabled Veterans

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling made three years ago is coming back to haunt a group it wasn’t even aimed at: disabled veterans.

Disabled veteran, ca. 1943

Disabled veteran, ca. 1943 (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

“The court’s decision concerned a convicted murderer who had beaten a man to death,” according to a story in The New York Times. “But now it is being applied to bar claims from disabled veterans who fumble filing procedures and miss deadlines in seeking help from the government. The upshot, according to a dissent in December from three judges on a federal appeals court in Washington, is ‘a Kafkaesque adjudicatory process in which those veterans who are most deserving of service-connected benefits will frequently be those least likely to obtain them.’ ”
The original ruling said that some filing deadlines are so rigid that even those caused by bad information from a federal judge don’t excuse missing them, Adam Liptak wrote in the story.
Relief, at least for disabled veterans if not convicted murderers, may be on the way, however.
“The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear an appeal from David L. Henderson, who was discharged from the military in 1952 after receiving a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia,” the story stated. “He sought additional government help for his condition in 2001, and he was turned down in 2004. Mr. Henderson, who served on the front lines in the Korean War, had 120 days to file an appeal, but it took him 135 days. He had a pretty good excuse.
“His psychiatrist has said under oath that he is ‘incapable of rational thought or deliberate decision-making.’ As a consequence, the psychiatrist added, “Mr. Henderson has been incapable of understanding and meeting deadlines.”
In conclusion Liptak wrote:
“Before the Supreme Court leaves for its summer break, the justices are likely to decide whether they will hear Mr. Henderson’s appeal. If they do, they will consider whether they really meant to shut the courthouse door on veterans as well as murderers.”

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