Buffington v. McDonough, No. 20-1479 (Fed. Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Buffington served on active duty in the Air Force, 1992-2000. After leaving active duty service, Buffington sought disability benefits. The VA found that Buffington suffered from service-connected tinnitus, rated his disability at 10 percent, and awarded him disability compensation. In 2003, Buffington was recalled to active duty in the Air National Guard. He informed the VA of his return to active service, and the VA discontinued his disability compensation, 38 U.S.C. 5112(b)(3), 5304(c). In 2004, Buffington completed his active service in July 2005. Buffington did not seek to recommence his disability benefits until January 2009. The VA determined Buffington was entitled to compensation effective on February 1, 2008—one year before he sought recommencement; 38 C.F.R. 3.654(b)(2) sets the effective date for recommencement of compensation, at the earliest, one year before filing. Buffington challenged the effective-date determination.
The VA Regional Office rejected his challenge, providing further reasoning for the February 2008 effective date. The Board of Veterans Appeals affirmed. The Veterans Court held that section 3.654(b)(2) was a valid exercise of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs rulemaking authority and was not inconsistent with 38 U.S.C. 5304(c). The Federal Circuit affirmed. Section 3.654(b)(2) reasonably fills a statutory gap.