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May 13, 2021

The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Allows Caregivers the Right to Appeal Adverse Veterans Health Administration Benefits Decisions

On April 19, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims issued a decision which gives veterans and their caregivers the opportunity to appeal adverse benefits decisions under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (“Caregiver Program”) to the Board of Veterans Affairs (“BVA”) once they have exhausted the Veterans Health Administration (“VHA”) appeals process. Jeremy Beaudette, served in the Marine Corps for 10 years, including combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Due to the traumatic brain injuries he suffered in service, he was left legally blind and rated 100% disabled. When Jeremy and his wife, Maya, discovered they qualified for the Caregiver Program, Maya quit her job to care for Jeremy full time. Continued eligibility under the Caregiver Program requires periodic reassessment by the VA, and failure to participate in these check-ups results in the revocation of caregiver benefits. Because Jeremywas recovering from two major surgeries, he missed one of these scheduled reassessments. The VA denied his request to delay the examination and subsequently revoked Beaudette's eligibility, determining they were no longer in need of the stipend. The Beaudettes challenged this ruling through the VHA appeals process and were denied. Because this determination by the VHA was considered a medical determination, the VA argued the decision was not appealable to the BVA. In Beaudette, however, the CAVC determined that Congress did not intend for the Caregiver Act to remove judicial review from these VHA determinations, and therefore enjoined the VA from denying future similarly situated veterans the right to appeal to the BVA once exhausting the VHA appeals process.