Veteranclaims’s Blog

February 14, 2016

Single Judge Application; Suguitan v. McDonald, 27 Vet.App. 114, 121 (2014)

Excerpt from decision below:

“Recently, this Court has stated that
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Congress further limited the pool of eligible surviving spouses by making a surviving spouse’s claim clearly derivative of the veteran’s claim. In other words, the surviving spouse is only eligible to receive a payment if the veteran had qualifying service and had filed a claim for [a Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund] payment  while he was alive that was still pending at his death. There is no indication in that provision that Congress meant to grant a surviving spouse an independent right to file a claim in the first instance on behalf of the eligible, but deceased, claimant. Suguitan v. McDonald, 27 Vet.App. 114, 121 (2014).

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Designated for electronic publication only
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR VETERANS CLAIMS
NO. 14-2913
BEVERLY F. GADIA, APPELLANT,
V.
ROBERT A. MCDONALD,
SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, APPELLEE.
Before HAGEL, Chief Judge.

MEMORANDUM DECISION
Note: Pursuant to U.S. Vet. App. R. 30(a), this action may not be cited as precedent.

HAGEL, Chief Judge: Beverly F. Gadia, who is self-represented, appeals a May 9, 2014,
Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) decision that denied entitlement to a one-time payment from the
Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund. Mrs. Gadia’s Notice of Appeal was timely, and the
Court has jurisdiction to review the Board decision pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 7252(a). The parties
neither requested oral argument nor identified issues that they believe require a precedential decision
of the Court. Because the Board’s determination is not clearly erroneous and is supported by
adequate reasons or bases, the Court will affirm the May 2014 Board decision.

I. FACTS
Mrs. Gadia is the widow of Narciso C. Gadia, who died on October 16, 2008. In January 2010, she filed an application for entitlement to payment of benefits from the Filipino Veterans
Equity Compensation Fund pursuant to the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009.
In May 2010, a VA regional office denied Mrs. Gadia entitlement to payment under the
Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund, finding that Mr. Gadia died before the law was
enacted and, therefore, as a surviving spouse, she was not entitled to benefits. Mrs. Gadia filed a
Notice of Disagreement with that decision and ultimately appealed to the Board.
In May 2014, the Board issued the decision on appeal, denying Mrs. Gadia entitlement to
payment of benefits from the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund. The Board found that
she could not collect benefits as a surviving spouse and that the claim must be denied as a matter of
law. This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS
On appeal, in an informal brief, Mrs. Gadia argues that the Board erred when it did not accept
her “contention [that she] filed for [Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund] benefits [on]
behalf of [the] deceased vet[eran].” Appellant’s Informal (Inf.) Brief (Br.) at 1. She contends that
the Board
has apparently given much weight to the criteria requiring that [Mr.] Gadia must [still
be] alive when the [American Recovery and Reinvestment] Act took effect and [that
he] must have filed for [Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund] benefits prior
to [the] deadline [of February] 16, 2010[,] outweighing the legitimate wartime
services already rendered by [Mr. Gadia,] which the law seeks to compensate.
Id. at 2; see Calma v. Brown, 9 Vet.App. 11, 15 (1996) (explaining that it is the Court’s practice to
liberally construe the pleadings of pro se appellants). The Court disagrees.
Pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress established the
Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund and authorized VA to make one-time payments from
the fund to eligible persons who submitted a claim within the one-year period beginning on the date
of enactment (February 17, 2009), and to a surviving spouse, if any, of an eligible veteran who had
a claim pending at the time of the veteran’s death. Pub. L. No. 111–5, § 1002(c)(1)-(2), 123 Stat.
115, 200-01. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 further provides, in relevant
part, that “[a]n eligible person is any person who . . . served . . . in the organized military forces of
the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, while such forces were in the service of
the Armed Forces of the United States.” Pub. L. No. 111–5 at § 1002(d)(1)(A). Recently, this Court
has stated that
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Congress further limited the pool of eligible surviving spouses by making a surviving
spouse’s claim clearly derivative of the veteran’s claim. In other words, the surviving
spouse is only eligible to receive a payment if the veteran had qualifying service and
had filed a claim for [a Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund] payment while
he was alive that was still pending at his death. There is no indication in that
provision that Congress meant to grant a surviving spouse an independent right to file
a claim in the first instance on behalf of the eligible, but deceased, claimant.
Suguitan v. McDonald, 27 Vet.App. 114, 121 (2014).
Here, the Board found that Mrs. Gadia did not dispute the date of Mr. Gadia’s death and
found that, because he “died prior to the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
of 2009, he could not have had an application pursuant to that legislation pending at the time of his
death; thus, [Mrs. Gadia] is not eligible for benefits as a surviving spouse.” Record (R.) at 7. The
Board also found that, as a result,
[it] need not consider whether [Mr. Gadia] had requisite service. Nevertheless, the
Board notes that a 1998 VA Form 21-3101 (Request for Information) reflects that the
U.S. Army Reserve Personnel Center determined that [Mr. Gadia] ha[d] no service
as a member of the Philippine Commonwealth Army, including the recognized
guerillas, in the service of the United States Armed Forces.
Id.
The law is clear that Mrs. Gadia may only receive payment from the Filipino Veterans Equity
Compensation Fund if she is a surviving spouse of a claimant, who filed an application within one
year of the date that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was enacted. Pub. L.
No. 111–5 at § 1002(c)(1)-(2). Because Mr. Gadia died before the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act of 2009 was even enacted, the Board properly found that he could not have filed
an application within the requisite period. Even if Mrs. Gadia submitted her claim “on behalf of”
Mr. Gadia, she is not an “eligible surviving spouse” because there was no way that Mr. Gadia could
have a claim pending at the time of his death. See Suguitan, 27 Vet.App. at 121 (“the surviving
spouse is only eligible to receive a payment if the veteran . . . had filed a claim for [a Filipino
Veterans Equity Compensation Fund] payment while he was alive that was still pending at his
death”) (emphasis added). Further, the Board verified, and the record confirms, that Mr. Gadia did
not have eligible service to receive benefits under the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund.
See R. at 160 (January 1998 Request for Information).
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To the extent that Mrs. Gadia referenced “the case of LC M.H. Corrales[,] who filed for
[Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund] benefits [on] behalf of veteran – R.V. Corrales,”
Appellant’s Inf. Br. at 1, the Court notes that she previously raised this issue to the Board, and that
the Board determined that it could only decide her claim based on the evidence and not based on
previously decided claims unrelated to her claim. Moreover, the Board noted that “[m]erely because
another individual received [Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund] benefits in 2009, on
behalf of a veteran, does not change the basic facts in the [Mrs. Gadia]’s claim[:] her husband, the
alleged Veteran at issue, died before enactment of the pertinent law.” R. at 8. As previously
discussed, the Board explained in detail why Mrs. Gadia was not entitled to benefits under the
Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund, and she does not provide any support for why this
evidence supports her claim.
Mrs. Gadia also contends that the Board failed to consider Mr. Gadia’s citizenship and that
an award should be granted based on his citizenship. However, benefits may be granted under the
Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund for both citizens and non-citizens. See Suguitan,
27 Vet.App. at 121; Pub. L. No. 111–5 at § 1002(d). Further, a veteran’s citizenship is only relevant
to determine the amount of the award after the veteran is found to be eligible to receive benefits.
Pub. L. No. 111–5 at § 1002(e)(1)-(2) (awarding $9,000 to the eligible veteran who is not a U.S.
citizen, and $15,000 to the eligible veteran who is a U.S. citizen).
Mrs. Gadia also appears to assert that the Board failed to obtain evidence and cited various
pages of the record. Appellant’s Inf. Br. at 1. However, she does not state what evidence VA failed
to obtain or how the records cited demonstrate VA’s failure to obtain relevant evidence. Therefore,
the Court will not address this further. See Locklear v. Nicholson, 20 Vet.App. 410, 416 (2006)
(holding that the Court will not entertain underdeveloped arguments).
Insofar as Mrs. Gadia argues that the Board failed to apply the benefit of the doubt doctrine,
that doctrine is not for application when the preponderance of the evidence weighs against the
veteran’s claim. See 38 U.S.C. § 5107(b); Schoolman v. West, 12 Vet.App. 307, 311 (1999). Here,
the Board determined that Mrs. Gadia was not entitled to payment under the Filipino Veterans Equity
Compensation Fund as a matter of law; therefore, the benefit of the doubt doctrine was not
applicable. See Sabonis v. Principi, 6 Vet.App. 426, 429–30 (1994) (holding that, where the law and
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not the evidence is dispositive, a claim should be denied or the appeal terminated because of lack
of legal merit or lack of entitlement under the law).
In sum, the Court concludes that the Board’s denial of payment under the Filipino Veterans
Equity Compensation Fund is not clearly erroneous and is supported by an adequate statement of
reasons or bases. See 38 U.S.C. § 7104(d)(1); Gilbert v. Derwinski, 1 Vet.App. 49, 52 (1990).
III. CONCLUSION
Upon consideration of the foregoing, the May 9, 2014, Board decision is AFFIRMED.
DATED: November 18, 2015
Copies to:
Beverly F. Gadia
VA General Counsel (027)
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