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Walters v. National Association of Radiation Survivors

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Brief Fact Summary.

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.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not grant veterans claimants the right to counsel in proceedings determining their VA benefits awards.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Moreover, even apart from the frustration of Congress' principal goal of wanting the veteran to get the entirety of the award, the destruction of the fee limitation would bid fair to complicate a proceeding which Congress wished to keep as simple as possible.

View Full Point of Law
Facts.

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.

Issue.

Does the Fifth Amendment grant veteran claimants the right to counsel in proceedings determining their VA benefit awards?

Held.

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.

Dissent.

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.

Discussion.

  1. The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process of the law as applied to the federal government meaning the government cannot infringe upon the right to a fair hearing.
  2. The fee cap does not violate the right to a hearing because the hearings are meant to be collaborative and informal and not adversarial.
  3. Veterans have flexibility in presenting their case and the evidence is read in the light most favorable to the claimant.
  4. There are sufficient safeguards in place and the aid available through veterans’ rights groups makes representation by counsel unnecessary for a proper hearing.
  5. Congress wants the awards of the VA to go to veterans and not their attorneys.
  6. Incorporating attorneys in the hearings would needlessly complicate the proceedings and go against the government’s desire to have the benefits benefit the veterans themselves.

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