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Chevron Leads SCOTUS to Deny Veteran’s Appeal

Last month, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rejected an Air Force veteran’s appeal after denying his claim for retroactive disability benefits. In doing so, the Court upheld what is known as the Chevron doctrine despite calls from the veteran’s legal team to overrule the nearly 40-year-old precedent.

The Chevron decision and the doctrine that bears its name have little effect on the lives of many Americans. However, for veterans struggling to obtain benefits from the VA, Chevron can become a significant obstacle to receiving the help they need.

Buffinton v. McDonough and the Application of Chevron

The case recently decided is titled, Buffington v. McDonough. The veteran Buffington received disability benefits following an honorable discharge in 2000. In 2003, he was recalled to active duty and served in the Air National Guard. During the time he was serving on active duty, Buffington did not receive any VA disability benefits.

veteran benefitsApproximately four years after he completed his active duty service, Buffington applied for reinstatement of his disability benefits. He also asked the VA to pay him benefits retroactively for the period covering his discharge from active duty to the time he applied for reinstatement. 

The VA declined, claiming under the “forfeiture rule” that veterans cannot request retroactive benefits if they wait longer than one rear to apply to resume their benefits. The VA claimed that its reading of the underlying statute supported its denial of Buffington’s claim. 

How Chevron Impacts Buffington – and You

The Chevron doctrine comes from the 1984 landmark case, Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council. In this decision, SCOTUS announced a two-part test when confronted with an action by an executive branch agency based on statutory interpretation. The doctrine states:

  • If Congress’s intent is clear from the statutory language, then that intention controls
  • If not, the agency’s interpretation will be allowed so long as it is a permissible interpretation

The Chevron doctrine means that if the VA interprets any statutes that govern its operations in a way that is permissible, so long as the statute is ambiguous in the Court’s eyes, then the VA’s interpretation will control. This is true even if there are other, more compelling interpretations available.

It should be noted that in Buffington, the Court expressly rejected requests to overrule Chevron and adopt a rule stating that in cases involving veterans’ benefits, the Courts should interpret ambiguous statutes in a manner that most benefits the veteran.

How a Veterans Disability Attorney Can Help

Buffington is a disappointing outcome for veterans and underscores the need for veterans to have experienced and vigorous representation when their initial claim for disability benefits is denied. It is through aggressive and informed advocacy that legal doctrines like Chevron are challenged and can be changed. 

Valor Firm provides veterans denied disability benefits with this aggressive and skilled representation. Let us assist you if you have had a claim for benefits or retroactive benefits denied. Call or text us at (504) 218-2510, or contact us to schedule your claim consultation.

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About the Author

Adam Werner is a partner and practicing attorney at WHG. He specializes in personal injury cases, workers’ compensation claims, and veteran disability benefits. He routinely writes about personal injury and workers comp topics for the Werner, Hoffman, Greig & Garcia blog

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