Taylor v. McDonough

The Mizzou Law Veterans Clinic was involved in a high-profile veteran’s law case at the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Led by the Clinic’s founder, Angela Drake, and supported by then-students turned graduates, Joel Smith ’22 and Emily Bergmann ’22, the Clinic assisted in drafting and submitting an amicus brief in the case of Taylor v. McDonough which provided a favorable decision for the veteran appellant. This landmark case centered on Bruce R. Taylor, a veteran who faced numerous obstacles in claiming disability compensation for injuries sustained during his service.

Taylor, a veteran who participated in a secret Army program at the Edgewood Arsenal facility, suffered disabilities due to his service. A secrecy oath and threat of penalties prevented him from filing a claim for disability compensation until 2007. The court considered the initial filing of his claim as the effective date for his benefits claim.

The court rejected Taylor’s arguments based on equitable estoppel and statutory provisions, but agreed with his constitutional argument that the government violated his right of access to the adjudicatory forum for VA disability benefits. The court found that 38 U.S.C. § 5110, the effective-date provision, was unconstitutional as applied to Taylor because of the government’s interference with his access to the VA system.

As a result, the court held that, when a veteran is entitled to benefits connected to a program like Edgewood, the effective date of benefits should be based on the date the veteran would have had without the government’s unconstitutional interference. The court reversed the Veterans Court’s decision and remanded the case for prompt action to provide Taylor relief according to its ruling.

Judge Dyk filed a separate concurring opinion, agreeing with the result but arguing for a resolution based on equitable estoppel rather than constitutional grounds. Judge Hughes filed a dissenting opinion, disagreeing with the court’s decision to expand the right of access precedent, arguing that Congress should provide a remedy for cases like Taylor’s.

The Mizzou Law Veterans Clinic’s involvement in amici briefing efforts extends beyond this case, with successful engagements in various courts, including the United States Supreme Court. This advocacy has effectively reshaped veterans Law for the benefit of thousands of veterans.