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February 12, 2021

Veteran Seeking 15 Years of Retroactive Benefits Appeals to the United States Supreme Court

Robert Sellers is a U.S. Navy and Army Veteran suffering from major depressive disorder (“MDD”) who first filed a pro se claim for disability benefits with the VA in 1996, shortly after retiring from the military. His application specifically described several physical conditions and made a general request regarding disabilities that occurred during active-duty service. Although his application did not explicitly describe his mental health issues, his service records clearly demonstrated persistent and severe mental health concerns, including a three-week involuntary mental health hospitalization as well as diagnoses of depression, insomnia, and personality disorder with obsessive-compulsive traits. In response, the VA awarded benefits for his enumerated physical conditions, but failed to address his psychological disabilities. Mr. Sellers finally received service connection on a new claim for PTSD in 2009 and MDD in 2011 – thus giving him a 2009 effective date for his psychiatric compensation claim. The VA’s refusal to grant him an effective date of 1996, the date he first filed for disability compensation, prevents him from receiving more than fifteen years of retroactive benefits. The Board of Veterans Appeals refused to grant him the 1996 effective date but the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims reversed – finding that his general statement of intent to seek benefits in his 1996 claim coupled with a “reasonably identifiable in-service medical diagnoses” was sufficient as a claim for benefits. The government appealed and a panel of the Federal Circuit reversed again, giving Mr. Sellers an effective date of 2009. Mr. Sellers is expected to appeal to the United States Supreme Court to determine the correct effective date of a veteran’s claim for disability benefits.