Strict Deadlines, Disabled Veterans and Dismissed Cases

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* By Adam Liptak New York Times *

Three years ago, the Supreme Court said there are some filing deadlines so rigid that no excuse for missing them counts, even if the tardiness was caused by erroneous instructions from a federal judge.

The vote was 5 to 4, and Justice David H. Souter wrote a furious dissent. “It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way,” he said, adding that he feared the decision would have pernicious consequences.

He had no idea.

The court’s decision concerned a convicted murderer who had beaten a man to death. But now it is being applied to bar claims from disabled veterans who fumble filing procedures and miss deadlines in seeking help from the government. The upshot, according to a dissent in December from three judges on a federal appeals court in Washington, is “a Kafkaesque adjudicatory process in which those veterans who are most deserving of service-connected benefits will frequently be those least likely to obtain them.”

The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear an appeal from David L. Henderson, who was discharged from the military in 1952 after receiving a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He sought additional government help for his condition in 2001, and he was turned down in 2004.

Mr. Henderson, who served on the front lines in the Korean War, had 120 days to file an appeal, but it took him 135 days. He had a pretty good excuse.

His psychiatrist has said under oath that he is “incapable of rational thought or deliberate decision-making.” As a consequence, the psychiatrist added, “Mr. Henderson has been incapable of understanding and meeting deadlines.”

The courts acknowledge this. On the other hand, they say, deadlines are deadlines.

Read more at New York Times

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