Veterans in Pain May Find Relief with New Court Decision

Just a few days ago the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided the watershed case of Saunders v. Wilkie that will impact thousands of veterans’ claims for VA Disability Compensation benefits.

In an astounding victory for veterans everywhere, the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) and its partner, private law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP, won its case of Saunders v. Wilkie, overturning the 1999 case Veterans Court decision in Sanchez-Benitez v. West, which held that “pain alone is not a disability for the purpose of VA disability compensation.” You can read NVLSP’s news release on the victory here.

What this means is that veterans with pain that is not connected to any specific medical diagnosis now may be eligible to receive VA Disability Compensation benefits.

The case was won on behalf of Gulf War veteran Melba Saunders, who experienced knee pain so severe that she could only stand for a few minutes at a time. However, because her knee pain was “untethered to a medical diagnosis explaining its cause,” the VA denied her claim. According to the NVLSP’s news release, “The Federal Circuit’s decision in Saunders v. Wilkie should affect thousands of disabled veterans suffering from pain related to their military service.  Over the last 19 years, the Court of Veterans Appeals cited the precedent invalidated by the Federal Circuit in over 100 individual appeals filed by veterans in the Veterans Court.  Moreover, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals cited the Veterans Court’s now-invalidated precedent in more than 11,000 individual Board decisions.”

11,000 individual decisions! This is a HUGE win for veterans. Now, thousands of veterans who were denied their hard-earned benefits might have a chance again. And even more veterans who were told not to apply because of the old precedent can now file a claim.

So now the question is: What’s next?

If you are a veteran who has been denied VA Disability Compensation benefits based on pain alone, you should consider filing an appeal or a new claim. Appeals are subject to certain time limitations, but any veterans who suspect they might be affected by this new ruling should contact an experienced VA Accredited attorney to discuss their options.

You can search here to find a VA Accredited attorney in your area. Note: if you search by zip code, the search engine does NOT search for a radius around the entered zip code. Ex: If you search for zip code “20008” it will only show attorneys in that exact zip code. I suggest you search by state to get the best search results.


Author: Kathryn L. Blevins, Esq.

Attorney. Small business owner. Military family. I am the owner and attorney at Blevins Law, LLC. My firm focuses on Social Security disability claims (SSI and SSDI), Veterans' Disability Compensation, Advance Medical Directives and medical and financial powers of attorney. I also assist veterans assessing other types of VA benefits they may be eligible for. I am licensed in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and am a VA Accredited Attorney. I am the proud wife of an Army veteran, and the proud mother of two amazing children and three rescued fur children.

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