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U.S. Loses Oversight of Some Veterans’ Benefits

(CN) - A federal appeals court has sided with the sister of a schizophrenic veteran who wants to manage her brother's benefits.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki argued that the Department of Veteran Affairs, not the courts, should decide who can handle benefits for veterans who are not capable of looking after themselves.

But in an unsigned decision from a three-judge panel, the U.S. Court of Appeals of Veterans Claims begged to differ, granting a writ of mandamus in favor of veteran William Freeman's sister, Deborah Allen.

"Statutory and regulatory provisions exist that govern the process the secretary must follow when appointing a fiduciary," the 20-page opinion states. "As Congress did not place that statutory framework beyond either the board's or this court's jurisdiction, a beneficiary may challenge whether or not the secretary properly exercised his authority in this area. Such a beneficiary would be entitled to one review on appeal within VA and, subsequently, an appeal to this court."

The New York Times says that the ruling opens the door to other families shut-out of hundreds of thousands of veteran accounts, worth roughly $3.2 billion.

Freeman's attorney, Douglas Rosinski, told the New York Times "At War" blog that the ruling would subject "impenetrable and arrogant" Department of Veteran Affairs minders to "judicial oversight," arguing that it had license itself to "ignore, abuse and steal from the veterans that it ensnares."

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