For nearly five years, a team of Williams & Connolly attorneys have worked with King & Spalding and the American College of Trial Lawyers representing a group of veterans seeking to end the VA’s unconscionable delays in processing disability benefits appeals. During the course of multiple trips between the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) and the Federal Circuit, these attorneys managed to overthrow longstanding CAVC precedent that was a significant obstacle to veterans obtaining relief and helped numerous clients achieve the benefits they waited too long to receive.
At the end of this long road stood one final client: the widow of a United States Air Force veteran, who had honorably served from February 16, 1961, to May 14, 1965, including service in Vietnam. Among other hazards faced by our client’s husband, his helicopter crew participated in two covert, special operations missions to Da Nang, Vietnam—where Agent Orange had been employed. After leaving the service, he developed coronary artery disease and lung cancer, both of which the VA admits to be caused by Agent Orange exposure.
Nevertheless, the VA refused to grant our client the benefits her husband had earned. In a September 2020 precedential opinion, the Federal Circuit unanimously ruled in favor of our client, holding that the lower court had misapplied the law our client helped create on the first trip to the Federal Circuit.
Tragically, however, shortly after the Federal Circuit vindicated our client’s decade-long fight, she passed away. This outcome is tragically all too common, as the VA attempts to out-wait elderly veterans who should not have had to fight for benefits in the first place.
Reluctantly, we confirmed to the CAVC that our client’s death mooted her appeal. Our filing represents the end of the road in this long-running fight, but it is a poignant illustration of the failures of the VA system with which veterans grapple every day. Our client will never see the Federal Circuit’s words turned into action in her case, and she will never receive the fruits of her tireless labor within this broken system. But we hope that other veterans can benefit from the hard fought efforts of this group of brave veterans.
The Williams & Connolly team representing the U.S. Air Force Veteran and his widow included Luke McCloud, Melinda Johnson, Liam Montgomery, and Steve Raber.
Please click here to read the Williams & Connolly filing.