Military veterans unhappy with Veterans Administration rulings on their disability claims cannot appeal them to higher authorities, a federal appeals court has ruled.
In a 2-to-1 decision Friday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia cited a federal law that says the VA's decisions about benefits "shall be final and conclusive and no other official or any court of the United States shall have power or jurisdiction to review any such decision."
"The scheme envisioned by the legislation is . . . that an agency which is designed and intended to have the interests of the veterans at heart will dispose of matters relating to their claims in a manner different from the adversarial process familiar to the courts," the judges said.
The ruling invalidates a district court order requiring the VA to set new rules concerning disability claims for radiation exposure.
Congress prohibited judicial review of such decisions, the appeals court said, to avoid court interference in veterans' affairs.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Patricia Wald said the legislative history indicates that Congress had no intention of protecting from judicial scrutiny "an unlawfully promulgated VA rulemaking." Wald said the majority opinion would "bar every lawsuit concerning veterans' benefits other than a direct constitutional challenge to VA legislation."
The case arose in 1979 when the VA issued standards and procedures for determining when veterans exposed to radiation by the U.S. government are entitled to VA disability benefits.