Judiciary News: Back on the Bench to Announce Opinions, Supreme Court Rules Against Veterans


By Adam Liptak, New York Times
Jan. 23, 2023

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, which had not announced a decision from the bench since the start of the coronavirus pandemic almost three years ago, returned to the courtroom on Monday to issue a unanimous decision in a case on veterans’ benefits.

The decision, the first in an argued case in the term that started in October, was announced by its author, Justice Amy Coney Barrett. It was the first time she had summarized an opinion from the bench.

The case on veterans’ benefits, Arellano v. McDonough, No. 21-432, concerned Adolfo R. Arellano, who served in the Navy from 1977 to 1981. About 30 years later, he applied for benefits stemming from what he said was trauma he had suffered while serving on an aircraft carrier that collided with another ship.

The Department of Veterans Affairs granted his request for benefits — but only prospectively. Mr. Arellano, who said he had been too ill to understand that he had been entitled to apply for benefits earlier, asked for them covering the intervening decades.
Justice Barrett wrote that the federal law governing the matter allows a retroactive award of benefits, but only up to a year and only if the application is filed within a year of the veteran’s discharge.

“Congress did not throw the door wide open in these circumstances or any other,” Justice Barrett wrote, adding that “hard and fast limits on retroactive benefits can create harsh results.”

The choice, she wrote, belonged to lawmakers. “Congress could have designed a scheme that allowed adjudicators to maximize fairness in every case,” Justice Barrett wrote. “But Congress has the power to choose between rules, which prioritize efficiency and predictability, and standards, which prioritize optimal results in individual cases.”



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