The Catholic University of America





Veterans Claims Court Decides Case Heard at Law School in October


The United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has released its ruling in a case that was argued in the Columbus School of Law’s Slowinski Courtroom on Oct. 15th.   

Decided 2-1 on Dec. 4th, the majority opinion in Gazaille v. McDonald upheld an earlier action from the Board of Veterans' Appeals in a case involving dependency and indemnity compensation benefits claimed by the widow of a Marine Corps veteran.  The benefits were denied on the ground that the statute authorizing the benefits requires the surviving spouse to be married for one year prior to the veteran’s death.   
The case came to CUA Law in October as a result of the Court’s practice of holding some of its judicial proceedings at law schools, where they can be observed in person and learned from by law students. That day, the Court’s three jurists, Chief Judge Bruce E. Kasold, Judge Lawrence B. Hagel, and Judge William S. Greenberg, conducted the court proceeding normally, then answered questions from the audience upon its conclusion
The case itself presented interesting questions. The claimant, Nancy Gazaille, did not dispute that her veteran husband died before a year had elapsed.  Instead, she argued that if the Veterans’ Administration system had properly diagnosed and treated him, his death from cancer would have been postponed, and she would have met the one-year marriage requirement.  The widow further argued that the court possessed equitable authority to carve out an exception to the statutory language based on the VA’s alleged medical malpractice.
Writing for the majority, Judge Hagel concluded that the statutory one-year marriage requirement was clear and that no equitable remedy was available.  Judge Greenberg concurred in the judgment, but wrote separately to suggest that, in his view, an equitable remedy in the case was unwarranted based on a lack of proof, not unavailable. Chief Judge Kasold dissented, stating that equitable relief should be available in circumstances where a surviving spouse can establish that the VA’s medical malpractice prevented the marriage from meeting the one-year requirement.    
The Court’s opinion expressed its appreciation to CUA Law for its hospitality and thanked counsel for the parties for presenting an outstanding oral argument.