Supreme Court refuses to overturn ruling denying vets free health care

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to consider overturning a ruling by a federal appeals court that veterans are not entitled to free lifetime health care, even if recruiters promised they would get it decades ago.

During the World War II and Korean War eras, military recruits were often lured with the promise of health care for life if they served for 20 years in the armed forces. Higher-ups in the military encouraged recruiters to make such promises, records show.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in the case Schism v. United States last November that such promises weren't the military's to make. "Congress-and only Congress-can authorize the benefits that a retired federal employee, whether civilian or military, is entitled to receive," the court ruled.

In the case, Air Force and Navy veteran William Schism and Robert Reinlie, who served in the Army and the Air Force, argued that the promises of free health care made to them constituted a binding contract on the government's part.

"While we are sympathetic to the plaintiffs' position and acknowledge the likelihood that plaintiffs believed these promises and relied on them, the government is not legally bound to abide by them," the appeals court ruled.

The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that ruling, so it will remain in force.

Veterans groups and their advocates in Congress decried the appeals court's decision when it was issued last year. "In the period following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States military has enjoyed record levels of retention," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "The Department of Defense cannot expect to continue this success when they do not deliver on health care commitments."

In the 2001 Defense authorization act, Congress created a system to provide full health care coverage for aging veterans from that point on. Schism and Reinlie's case involved medical expenses incurred between 1995 and 2001.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.