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Case Digest: Arellano v. McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Case Digest: Arellano v. McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs
This case addresses whether the one-year time limit in Section 5110(b)(1) of U.S. Code, relating to the effective date of disability compensation to veterans, is subject to equitable tolling. The Supreme Court held that this provision is not subject to equitable tolling, maintaining the precise statutory framework established by Congress for veterans’ disability compensation.


In Arellano v. McDonough, the U.S. Supreme Court tackled a nuanced issue pertaining to veterans' disability compensation, specifically the application of equitable tolling to the effective date of these compensations. This case, adjudicated on January 23, 2023, delves into the interpretation of legislative provisions concerning veterans' benefits.

Facts of the Case:

Adolfo Arellano, a veteran of the United States military, applied for disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) about 30 years after his honorable discharge, citing psychiatric disorders related to his military service. The VA granted him disability benefits, setting the effective date as the day his claim was received. Arellano appealed, contending that the effective date should be tolled to the day following his military discharge due to his inability to apply sooner because of his illness.

Issue of the Case:

The central legal question was whether Section 5110(b)(1) of the U.S. Code, which sets the effective date for disability compensation, is subject to equitable tolling, allowing for exceptions to its one-year time limit for application following discharge.

Ruling of the Case:

The Supreme Court unanimously decided that Section 5110(b)(1) is not subject to equitable tolling. The Court found that the statutory text and structure, along with Congress's detailed instructions on effective dates, indicated a clear legislative intent not to allow for equitable tolling in this context.

This ruling clarifies the application of equitable tolling in veterans' benefits laws, upholding the strict statutory limitations set by Congress. It emphasizes the primacy of legislative intent in statutory interpretation and underscores the limits of judicial discretion in expanding statutory time limits through equitable doctrines.


Arellano v. McDonough highlights the balance between judicial interpretation and legislative intent, particularly in the context of veterans' benefits. This decision reinforces the strict application of statutory time limits and the role of Congress in determining exceptions, shaping future interpretations and applications of similar statutory provisions.