Richardson v. Nicholson

Mr. Lee T. Richardson’ s fiduciary, appealed the decision of the Veterans Court that dismissed both Mr. Richardson’ s petition for a writ of mandamus, seeking payments of accrued benefits, and fiduciary’s petition for substitution of party for the writ. Richardson v. Nicholson, No. 06-7060 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 30, 2007).

Mr. Richardson was granted a 100 percent rating for PTSD in May 2005, with an effective date of March 10, 1986. When his accrued benefit payments were not processed as of July 2005, Mr. Richardson, through counsel, petitioned the Veterans Court for a
writ of mandamus to compel VA to pay the benefits owed. Mr. Richardson died July 28,
2005, the same day fiduciary received her Letters of Curatorship from the State of
Kansas. VA had not paid Mr. Richardson his accrued benefits as of that date. Fiduciary filed with the Veterans Court a motion on August 12, 2005, to substitute a party for a writ of mandamus. On August 20, 2005, the Veterans Court dismissed the petition for a writ of mandamus as moot. Fiduciary timely appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Upholding the Veterans Court decision, the Federal Circuit couched the matter as one of standing. It explained that at the point in time that Mr. Richardson died all claims for disability were extinguished. Thus,  party could not be substituted in for Mr. Richardson to compel VA to pay the benefits owed, as the underlying claim for disability benefits on which the writ was based was mooted by his death.

Despite petitioner’s argument, the Court has held that a petition becomes moot by virtue of the death of the petitioner. White v. West, 11 et.App. 8 (1998) (per curiam order); see also Landicho v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 42, 47 (1994) (veterans’ disability claims under chapter 11 of title 8 of the U.S. Code do not survive their deaths). In such circumstance,
the petition will be dismissed. See White, 11 Vet. App. at 9.

The VA has recently added a requirement that any claim granted where the accrued benefits are 250,000 dollars or more, the claim must be reviewed by the VA secretary’s office.

Adding the review provision will ensure that the VA will not have to pay as many claims because the Veteran will die before a decision is reached.

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