Three cases being argued in December at the Federal Circuit attracted amicus briefs. One of those cases is Beaudette v. McDonough, a veterans case. In it, the Federal Circuit will review whether the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims erred in issuing a writ of mandamus to allow the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to hear appeals of adverse decisions pertaining to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. This is our argument preview.
McDonough, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in his opening brief argues the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) is excluded “from the Veterans Court’s jurisdiction.” As a result, the Secretary argues, “the petition [requesting mandamus] was not in . . . the court’s prospective jurisdiction” and “the court erred in granting mandamus.” Specifically, McDonough argues, the “plain language” of a statutory provision referring to “medical determinations” and a VA regulation exempting “medical determinations” from review demonstrates that Congress did not intend for PCAFC decisions to be within the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. McDonough argues that only “VA’s interpretation” gives “full effect to the statute’s provisions and does not render the term ‘medical determination’ mere surplusage.” Moreover, McDonough contends, “Congress knew of the VA regulation on medical determinations at the time it passed the Caregiver Act, and that it was aware of the implications of including the term ‘medical determinations’ in the statute.” Furthermore, McDonough contends, issuing the writ “impermissibly expanded the Veterans Court’s jurisdiction” because “Congress vested exclusive jurisdiction over direct challenges to VA rules and regulations in this Court, not the Veterans Court.” Finally, McDonough argues, the “Beaudettes failed to meet the requirement that they lacked adequate alternative means to obtain relief, as they could have brought a direct challenge to this Court pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 502.”
In their response brief, the Beaudettes assert the lower court correctly concluded that the statutory provision “does not foreclose judicial review.” More specifically, they contend “[n]othing in the plain language” of the provision “purports to withdraw a veteran’s ability to seek Board and Veterans Court review of benefit decisions made under the Caregiver Program.” Furthermore, they argue, there is no “‘clear and convincing evidence’ of congressional intent to withhold judicial review for benefits decisions under the Caregiver Program.”
McDonough, in his reply brief, argues that the “very phrase ‘medical determination,’ lifted verbatim from an existing regulation, serves as clear indication of Congress’s intention to insulate PCAFC decisions from board review.” Furthermore, McDonough argues, the Beaudettes’ argument cannot be true in light of “Congress’s presumed pre-enactment knowledge of the VA regulation and its declination . . . to amend the Caregiver Act to explicitly provide for board review of PCAFC decisions, despite at least two conspicuous opportunities to do so.”
The National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium filed an amicus brief in favor of the Beaudettes. The Consortium’s brief argues “Board and Veterans Court oversight will protect the rights of veterans and caregivers to access and maintain the benefits that Congress intended.”
Vietnam Veterans of America also filed an amicus brief in favor of the Beaudettes. Its brief argues the “Board of Veterans’ Appeals must have jurisdiction over PCAFC claims according to VA’s own regulatory interpretation” of the relevant statute. It expresses skepticism, by contrast, that the Veterans Health Administration “has the expertise and resources to successfully deliver justice to veterans through” its appeal process.
This case will be argued on Wednesday, December 6. We will report on developments in this case.