Brown v. Gardner - Oral Argument - October 31, 1994

Brown v. Gardner

Media for Brown v. Gardner

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 12, 1994 in Brown v. Gardner

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 31, 1994 in Brown v. Gardner

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 93-1128, Jesse Brown, Secretary of Veterans Affairs v. Fred P. Gardner.

Mr. DuMont.

Edward C. DuMont:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case involves 38 U.S. Code section 1151, which provides so-called service-connected disability benefits to veterans who have suffered an injury not, in fact, as a result of their military service but as the result of hospitalization or medical care provided by the Veterans Administration.

During the statute's 70-year history of enactment, implementation, repeal, reenactment, recodification, and periodic amendment, the VA has consistently held that section 1151 does not authorize the extension of benefits for disabilities arising as a reasonably foreseeable consequence of properly rendered medical care.

Rather--

Antonin Scalia:

During most of that period there was no opportunity for judicial review of that judgment, is that right?

Edward C. DuMont:

--That's correct, Justice Scalia.

However, we would point out that in addition to that fact, or precisely because of that fact, it's well-known that the Veterans Committees of Congress have always taken a very active interest in the administration of Veterans Affairs.

Antonin Scalia:

Well, that would presumably mean that what was being done pleased the then-current committees of Congress.

It would have very little to do with what the statute when originally enacted, by perhaps quite different people, meant.

Edward C. DuMont:

Well, although we think there is quite a remarkable record of consistency in that regard, since there was a good deal of administration in the twenties, shortly after the enactment, there was a good deal of administration in the thirties, after the reenactment, and there has been a great deal of ongoing administration during the subsequent period... so we believe really that the evidence that Congress has over all of those years expressed no dissatisfaction, in fact no one in Congress, no one else, to our knowledge, has expressed any great dissatisfaction with the core interpretation of section 1151 not to provide benefits for the ordinary, foreseeable results of proper medical care--

Antonin Scalia:

Mr. DuMont--

--Would you expect--

--I'm sorry.

I'm sorry.

Go ahead.

Would you expect the Veterans Committee of Congress to object to the VA giving away too many benefits?

Edward C. DuMont:

--We would expect the veterans and the committee to object if they thought that the Veterans Administration was applying too narrow a construction of the statute, which is the claim that the respondent makes in this case.

David H. Souter:

Well, we would expect them to object, maybe, if there was a good reason for them to do so.

One thing I don't know, maybe it's in the briefs but I just couldn't get a sense of it, is, what was the percentage of these claims in which the Government's policy would make a difference, because as I understand it, if there were treatment for, later treatment for a service-connected disability, there was no fault requirement at all, so that the only cases in which the Government's policy, if I understand it correctly, would make a difference, are those in which there was no prior service-connected disability, and the veteran simply went in because he was sick or he was hurt or what-not.

Was the percentage of these cases sufficiently high so that anyone would have paid much attention to them?

Did... in other words, I'm saying what practical difference did the policy make?

Edward C. DuMont:

I think it makes quite a significant practical difference, actually.

I'm not aware of the figures from the very early period.

However, now I can tell you that a very substantial proportion of the care rendered by the VA, both hospitalization and out-patient medical care, is rendered to veterans whose disability is nonservice-connected, or whose condition is a nonservice-connected condition, and therefore--

David H. Souter:

But in the early years we just don't know.

Prior, for example, to the, what was it, the '34 amendment, we don't know what the substantiality of this effect would have been in that period.

Edward C. DuMont:

--That's correct.

I'm not aware of... well, of course, until 1924, by and large veterans with nonservice-connected disabilities were not entitled to care at all, which is one of the reasons that we think it's implausible to accept respondent's contention that section 1151 in its original incarnation was intended to somehow put nonservice-connected veterans on a par with service-connected veterans, because really they were quite separate questions.