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BARRETT BOMB: Supreme Court ruling on veteran benefits stirs HEATED debate

BARRETT BOMB: Supreme Court ruling on veteran benefits stirs HEATED debate

BARRETT BOMB: Supreme Court ruling on veteran benefits stirs HEATED debate

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The first Supreme Court decision of the season was a unanimous one, authored by Amy Coney Barrett and regarding the case of a veteran who attempted to file a claim some thirty years after discharge.

Yet the unanimity has not failed to spark some debate, and forced me to take a long, hard look at myself for – dare I say it – possibly agreeing with Amy Coney Barrett.

The case, Arellano v. McDonough, involved a concept known as “equitable tolling,” which essentially boils down to the idea that deadlines can be overlooked when circumstances make it difficult or impossible for a certain party to comply.

In this instance, the plaintiff, Adolfo Arellano, had seen many of his friends die after a collision in the Persian Gulf while serving in the Navy and suffered from PTSD, bipolar disorder, facial tics, and schizophrenia following his discharge in 1981.

It wasn’t until 2011 that he became aware of the fact that he was eligible for benefits.

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He applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs but was told he could only receive benefits going forward and not retroactively since the law specifies that a serviceman must file for benefits within a year after leaving the service.

In her written opinion for the court, Barrett argued that overruling the law passed by Congress on this matter would amount to judicial overreach since the law in question stipulated sixteen specific circumstances that would allow for extensions.

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Barrett contended that this list was meant to be comprehensive and that the Congress would have been more permissive (or at least more ambiguous, one might imply, as often it purposely seems to be) if had not intended to be restrictive.

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

Some, like Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, a Georgetown-trained attorney who covers the Supreme Court, have argued that the decision in Arellano wrongfully interprets the applicable law in a case that, he says, should obviously apply the equitable tolling standard.

He argues that the sixteen circumstances stipulated by Congress aren’t meant to limit, but instead to show that there is room for wide interpretation.

Stern also believes that there are practical reasons to interpret the law in favor of the disabled veterans, since there will always be those among them who, for one reason or another, could not meet deadlines but deserve benefits.

A friend of mine with strong knowledge of political matters essentially concurred with Stern, pointedly remarking, “These are people, not library books.”

In his view, we should be going to great lengths to ensure that every veteran receives every benefit they’re entitled to, and not be worrying about some “arbitrary deadline,” as he put it.

But I disagree, and actually think ACB has a point.

It’s not that I don’t want veterans to get their benefits – of course, I do – they fought for us and risked their lives.

To me, though, this isn’t so much on the court as on the legislature: Congress crafted a law and set out explicit terms.

If Congress crafted a bad law, that’s the body that should change it, unless that law specifically violates rights or goes against the Constitution.

As for Stern’s claim that there are practical reasons to apply an expansive view, to me it does not hold up, as there are more practical reasons not to have such an expansive view.

While we can all agree that the VA should try to get benefits to all who earned them, allowing people to claim benefits twenty or thirty years after the fact could put the entire system in jeopardy, leaving VA officials to wonder who might emerge out of the woodwork.

And there is a legitimate reason to fear that people would take advantage of the loophole created.

Anyone who missed the deadline could simply say they were suffering from a mental disorder caused by their service.

Though the VA would undoubtedly try to verify, mental disorders can be difficult to pin down, and do we really want the VA determining whether some people are lying and others are not?

Better to have hard and fast rules that permit some limited exceptions.

Nonetheless, agreeing with Amy Coney Barrett has caused me to have to take a long, hard look in the mirror, which can be tough for me – mainly because, as this tweeter pointed out, I’m a rather unsightly person.

Thank you, Lucas, for that honest, poorly-written assessment.

But where will this line of thinking lead?

I mean, I’ve agreed with conservatives at times before – and even with Trump once in a while (after all, a broken clock is right twice a day) – but now ACB?

This calls for a serious reckoning. Does it make me a moron, perhaps? (“Yes!” some of you are shouting.)

I already have visions of Keith Olbermann naming me the “worst person in the woooorrrrrrrrlduh!” (And fat.)

But, in fairness, don’t we get further as liberals if we can acknowledge that every once in a while, even if by pure happenstance, a conservative might have a point?

Don’t kill me Twitter. But, if you are going to, you can beat me up by clicking on @RossRosenfeld. Let the punching begin.

Editor’s note: This is an opinion column that solely reflects the opinions of the author.

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Ross Rosenfeld

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