I have been asked to talk to you about the United States Court of Veterans Appeals-specifically, challenges and trends in defining the scope of the court's jurisdiction. As a brand-new court, and one without any antecedent, the court began to establish precedent to deal with all aspects of its jurisdiction. In fact, it is still very much in the process of setting such precedent. For the first time, the court brought the principle of stare decisis to the veterans' community. The principle required considerable readjustment within the Department of Veterans Affairs (Department or VA). The VA's regional offices and the Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board or BVA) were deciding benefits applications ad hoc. At the Board level there was little effort to achieve consistency among decisions by different panels. Moreover, veterans' benefits claimants were unprepared for the adversarial nature of an appellate court. The administrative adjudication, both at the agency of original jurisdiction and indeed at the Board level has been and remains a paternal system. The claimant need only present a “well-grounded” claim (much like a prima facie case) to bind the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to assist in the prosecution of the claim by guiding the evidentiary efforts on behalf of the claimant and by broaching issues not mentioned, but fairly embraced in the claim. The adversarial nature of judicial proceedings-particularly as relates to compiling a record for appellate review-has had far-reaching effects within the Department. In addition, issues relating to the court's jurisdiction required new, and sometimes complex, analysis of the rule of finality as applied to actions by the Department. A claimant could relitigate the same claim again and again by reopening or alleging “clear and unmistakable error” in a prior decision. These exceptions to the rule of finality have raised significant issues relating to the court's jurisdiction.

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