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Walters v. National Association of Radiation Survivors

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The government appealed a preliminary injunction against 38 U.S.C. §§ 301 et seq. because it attorneys refused ot represent veterans due to the fees provision.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A statute that mandates for attorneys’ fees in VA benefit award proceedings not to exceed $10 does not violate veterans’ rights to due process.

    Facts.

    Congress created a system whereby veterans would receive awards administered by the Veterans Administration (VA). Hearings governing the level of the awards are governed by 38 U.S.C. §§ 301 et seq., which do not allow attorneys’ fees for the hearings to exceed $10.00. Veterans challenged the statute claiming that it prevented them from seeking proper legal representation and the district court ordered a preliminary injunction against the statute because veterans were being turned down by attorneys because of the statute. The government appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a statute that mandates for attorneys’ fees in VA benefits award proceedings not to exceed $10 violates veterans’ rights to due process?

    Held.

    No. The judgment of the district court is reversed. The VA benefit program was intended to provide funds to veterans, not their attorneys. The benefit process is informal and veterans are allowed to present facts most favorable to their claims. Veterans’ organizations also provide guidance for veterans in the benefit process, rendering legal counsel unnecessary. The $10 limit on attorney’s fees therefore does not violate due process.

    Dissent.

    (Stevens, J.) Denying veterans the right to consult an attorney when faced with controversy against the government violates due process.

    Discussion.

    The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not require that a veteran be given counsel to determine their disability benefits; due process simply guarantees veterans a right to a fair hearing.


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