The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected arguments by a disabled veteran that he and other individuals who missed filing deadlines for disability benefits should still be eligible for retroactive payouts if they could show compelling reasons for the late submissions.
The case — Arellano v. McDonough — had been closely watched by veterans groups because of its potential to award tens of thousands of dollars to some veterans who failed to submit paperwork for military injuries within a year of separation from the service.
The case, which has been debated in the federal court system for years, centered on Navy veteran Adolfo Arellano, who was seriously injured in an accident aboard an aircraft carrier in 1980. He was medically retired a year later.
Arellano suffered from bipolar schizoaffective disorder as a result, and spent years either living on the street or under the care of family members. When his father died in 2011, he applied for disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs and was granted a monthly support stipend because of his service-connected injuries.
However, because Arellano had not applied for benefits within a year of leaving the service he was not eligible to receive retroactive benefits dating back to the end of his time in the military. Current law states that veterans must file paperwork in that one-year window to back date payouts to that military separation date.
Those 30 years of back pay would have totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars for him. In October 2022, lawyers for Arellano argued that the one-year deadline was unfair, given that Arellano’s injuries made it impossible for him to apply for benefits on his own.
But the Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected that assertion. Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the court’s decision wrote that federal rules are clear on the one-year time frame.
“The statute sets out detailed instructions that explain when various types of benefits qualify for an effective date earlier than the default,” she wrote.
“Congress did not throw the door wide open in these circumstances or any other.”
The court’s decision leaves in place a federal court ruling from 2021 which rejected Arellano’s request for back pay. Although attorney’s in the case could still attempt to revive their arguments on different legal grounds, the move ends the most realistic appeals on the issue.
The decision was the first of the most recent term of the nation’s highest court.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.