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Veterans for Common Sense v. Shinseki

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

December 13, 2011, Argued and Submitted En Banc, San Francisco, California; May 7, 2012, Filed

No. 08-16728


 [*1015]  BYBEE, Circuit Judge:

After a decade of war, many of our veterans are returning home with physical and psychological wounds that require competent care. Faced with the daunting task of providing that care, as well as adjudicating the claims of hundreds of thousands of veterans seeking disability benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA")1 is struggling to provide the care and compensation that our veterans  [**2] deserve. See, e.g., Review of Veterans' Claims Processing: Are Current Efforts Working? Hearing Before the S. Comm. on Veterans' Affairs, 111th Cong. 9 (2010) (statement of Michael Walcoff, Acting Under Secretary for Benefits, U.S. Dep't of Veterans Affairs) ("Secretary Shinseki, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the entire VA leadership fully share the concerns of this Committee, Congress as a whole, the Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), the larger Veteran community, and the American public regarding the timeliness and accuracy of disability benefit claims processing.").

Two nonprofit organizations, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United  [*1016]  for Truth (collectively "VCS"), ask us to remedy delays in the provision of mental health care and the adjudication of service-connected disability compensation claims by the VA. VCS's complaint  [**3] leaves little doubt that affording VCS the relief it seeks would require the district court to overhaul the manner in which the VA provides mental health care and adjudicates claims for benefits. VCS would have the district court, among other things, order the implementation of new procedures for handling mental health care requests, create an accelerated appeals process for claims, and convert the claims-adjudication process into an adversarial proceeding.

We conclude that we lack jurisdiction to afford such relief because Congress, in its discretion, has elected to place judicial review of claims related to the provision of veterans' benefits beyond our reach and within the exclusive purview of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. See 38 U.S.C. §§ 511, 7252, 7292; see also Yakus v. United States, 321 U.S. 414, 443, 64 S. Ct. 660, 88 L. Ed. 834 (1944). ] "Without jurisdiction the court cannot proceed at all in any cause. Jurisdiction is power to declare the law, and when it ceases to exist, the only function remaining to the court is that of announcing the fact and dismissing the cause." Ex parte McCardle, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 506, 514, 19 L. Ed. 264 (1868). We conclude  [**4] that the majority of VCS's claims must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. And where we do have jurisdiction to consider VCS's claims, we conclude that granting VCS its requested relief would transform the adjudication of veterans' benefits into a contentious, adversarial system—a system that Congress has actively legislated to preclude. See Walters v. Nat'l Ass'n of Radiation Survivors, 473 U.S. 305, 323-24, 105 S. Ct. 3180, 87 L. Ed. 2d 220 (1985). The Due Process Clause does not demand such a system.

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678 F.3d 1013 *; 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 9230 **; 83 A.L.R. Fed. 2d 537; 2012 WL 1574288

VETERANS FOR COMMON SENSE, a District of Columbia nonprofit organization; VETERANS UNITED FOR TRUTH, INC., a California nonprofit organization, representing their members and a class of all veterans similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. ERIC K. SHINSEKI, Secretary of Veterans Affairs; UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS; STEVEN L. KELLER, Acting Chairman, Board of Veterans' Appeals; ALLISON A. HICKEY, Under Secretary, Veterans Benefits Administration; BRADLEY G. MAYES, Director, Compensation and Pension Service; ROBERT A. PETZEL, Under Secretary, Veterans Health Administration; ULRIKE WILLIMON, Veterans Service Center Manager, Oakland Regional Office, Department of Veterans Affairs; UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants-Appellees.

Subsequent History: On remand at, Dismissed by Veterans for Common Sense v. Shinseki, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102049 (N.D. Cal., July 20, 2012)

US Supreme Court certiorari denied by Veterans for Common Sense v. Shinseki, 2013 U.S. LEXIS 406 (U.S., Jan. 7, 2013)

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. D.C. No. 3:07-cv-03758-SC. Samuel Conti, Senior District Judge, Presiding.

Veterans for Common Sense v. Peake, 563 F. Supp. 2d 1049, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48944 (N.D. Cal., 2008)

Disposition: AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED with instructions to DISMISS.


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Civil Procedure, Preliminary Considerations, Jurisdiction, General Overview, Constitutional Law, The Judiciary, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Federal Questions, Federal Questions, Jurisdiction Over Actions, Exclusive Jurisdiction, Exclusive Federal Jurisdiction, Military & Veterans Law, Veterans, General Benefits, Appeals & Review, US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Department of Veterans Affairs, Claim Procedures, Congressional Duties & Powers, Lower Federal Courts, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Scope of Protection