Supreme Court Denies Hearing Veteran Disability Case
On Monday, November 7, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case surrounding the disability benefits of a retired Air Force Veteran. Thomas Buffington, who served in the military for over a decade, first received benefits from Veterans Affairs in 2002 for tinnitus, also known as ringing in the ear due to his military service. The VA established that the tinnitus was 10% disabling . Buffington’s disability benefits stopped when he was recalled to the Air National Guard from 2003 and 2005. In 2009, he applied for the disability benefits to resume, including with retroactive pay going back to when he stopped serving in 2005. The VA provided him retroactive pay dating back to February 1, 2008, which was the current policy when a veteran applies for benefits over a year after leaving active duty . Buffington claimed in court that this policy denied him three years of disability benefits.
The US Court of Appeals, upheld the VA’s decision, basing their ruling on the Supreme Court case Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council , where the Supreme Court established the deference rule. This rule states that when the law is ambiguous or unclear, the Supreme Court leaves it up to the discretion of the federal agencies. Conservatives, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, have criticized the case because it greatly expands the powers of federal agencies and their discretionary powers. Justice Gorsuch, dissenting the decision to deny the case, stated that “independent judges, not politically motivated actors, resolve their rights and duties under law” . In not hearing the case, the Supreme Court has denied an opportunity to revisit such a ruling, a ruling that Buffington’s lawyers argued should be overturned . The denial of this case leaves Chevron in place for the foreseeable future and allows federal agencies greater latitude in operating within vague federal laws.