Veterans want to use attorneys in their benefits proceedings but are unable to obtain sufficient counsel because the government by statute caps attorney’s fees at $10.
The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not grant veterans claimants the right to counsel in proceedings determining their VA benefits awards.
Congress establishes a scheme through which veterans may apply for and receive benefits, and has the Veterans Administration (VA) oversee it. The benefits hearings are intended to be informal and non-adversarial with a primary fact-finding purpose, in part to get through the volume of cases. The relevant statute caps attorney’s fees in the hearings at $10 and imposes criminal penalties on those who violate the statute. The National Association of Radiation Survivors claims the cap on attorney’s fees violates their Fifth Amendment Due Process
Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment that guarantees citizens protection against arbitrary deprivation of life, liberty and property.
right because it hinders their ability to obtain legal counsel to adequately present their case.
Does the Fifth Amendment grant veteran claimants the right to counsel in proceedings determining their VA benefit awards?
No. The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not grant veterans claimants the right to counsel in proceedings determining their VA benefits awards. Reversed.
Justice Justice Stevens with Justices Breannan and Marshall Dissenting
That an attorney may complicate the proceedings does not justify completely outlawing them from the process altogether. The liberty interests of the veterans outweigh the government’s interest in protecting veterans from paying high attorney’s fees. The statute is denying veterans a basic right to consult an attorney which is a denial of liberty and a violation of due process.