Court says veteran can appeal missed deadline

The Supreme Court said Tuesday that a court for veterans shouldn't rigidly enforce deadlines on military vets who suffer from mental illnesses.

The high court ruled that Doretha H. Henderson, wife of the late David Henderson, can continue his appeal after he was denied benefits.

Henderson's husband was discharged from the armed forces in 1952 after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He asked the Veterans Affairs Department for home care in 2001 and was denied. He missed a 120-day deadline for appeal to a veterans court by 15 days, blaming it on his illness.

The veterans court and a federal appeals court agreed that his case was over because Henderson missed the deadline.

Henderson died last Oct. 24, and his wife has taken up his case, arguing that Congress meant the benefits system to be helpful to veterans and their benefits claims.

The court ruled unanimously that Henderson should be allowed to make the appeal.

"The VA is charged with the responsibility of assisting veterans in developing evidence that supports their claims, and in evaluating that evidence, the VA must give the veteran the benefit of any doubt," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for a unanimous court. "Rigid jurisdictional treatment of the 120-day period for filing a notice of appeal would clash sharply with this scheme."

Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in this case because she was involved with it while serving in the solicitor general's office.

The case is Henderson v. Shinseki, 09-1036.