On July 28, 2023, the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the Army improperly denied medical retirement benefits to our client, a combat veteran who was injured while deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In doing so, the Appellate Court found the Army’s method of rating veterans’ injuries was contrary to the governing regulations. The Court thereby set an important precedent that will help veterans in the US get the benefits that they have earned.
Following his combat injuries, it took our client 16 months of rehab to fully walk again. Our client was then medically separated from the Army, as he was unable to perform the physical duties required in combat. Despite being found to fall below retention standards due to his combat-related injuries, the Army’s evaluation board gave our client only a 10% disability rating, denying him the 30% required for medical retirement. As a result, after 10 years of military service, our client was forced to leave the Army without any retirement compensation or the additional medical benefits that come with medical retirement.
Our client initially appealed his decision to the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR), which was established by the Wounded Warrior’s Act specifically to correct what the act termed “notoriously low” disability ratings from the Army. But the PDBR denied our client’s request, improperly applying the governing Army rating standards.
In collaboration with National Veterans Legal Service Program (NVLSP), our lawyers filed a complaint under the Administrative Procedure Act seeking correction of the PDBR’s decision, and initially convinced the federal government to stipulate that the case should be remanded back to the PDBR for reconsideration. However, the PDBR doubled down on its prior denial, and failed to address any of the arguments presented in the request for reconsideration. In turn, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the PDBR’s determination.
So, Latham appealed to the D.C. Circuit. Our lawyers secured widespread amicus support for the appeal, working with five different Veterans Advocacy groups — a testament to the importance of the case. Our team first defeated the government’s request for summary affirmance. Then, in July 2023, after full merits briefing and oral argument, the D.C. Circuit issued a precedential decision siding with our client and finding that the PDBR had been improperly interpreting the governing regulations in an unduly restrictive manner. The D.C. Circuit’s decision clarifies the standards that apply to all disability determinations, helping ensure that other veterans will be appropriately rated and compensated for the injuries they endure while serving in the Armed Forces. Importantly, the Court also rejected the federal government’s request to review these types of military decisions under a heighted deferential standard.
The Latham team was led by associate Bradley Hyde, who presented oral argument before the D.C. Circuit. Associates Adriana Erquiaga, Helen Kirkby, Carolyn Hudson, Kevin Hamilton, and Erik Jensen were instrumental in briefing and preparing for oral argument. Partner Michael David supervised the team, and partner Gabe Bell helped review the D.C. Circuit briefing and prepare for argument.