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Legal Clinic Says Military Members Should Have More Time To Sue Feds

A university law clinic is set to tell the Supreme Court Wednesday why time limits should be removed for military servicemembers suing the federal government for injury compensation.

The court is hearing oral arguments for the cases U.S. v. June and U.S. v. Wong. Part of the problem with the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), according to the George Mason University Clinic for Legal Assistance to Servicemembers and Veterans, is that FTCA allows only a very short period of time for suit against the government to be filed for torts like negligence. The clinic regularly provides legal assistance to vets and active service members at no cost and filed their amicus briefs to the Supreme Court with the help of Reed Smith LLP.

The military is one of the largest filers of FTCA claims, and the argument offered by the clinic is that the two year filing limit does not account for delays stemming from injuries and the slow-moving bureaucratic engine which hinders the gathering of documentation necessary to substantiate claims.

Sometimes service members have to file expensive and lengthy Freedom of Information Act requests. In other cases, many service members do not even believe it’s possible to sue the federal government. Military culture discourages low-ranking officers from filing claims against higher-ranking officers, due to a fear of backlash.

“When someone is injured by the federal government, they have two years in which to file an administrative claim with the agency which they believe caused the injury. The administrative process accepts or denies their claim. If it’s denied, they have six months from the denial to file suit in federal court for the same claim,” Laurie Neff, director of the George Mason University Clinic for Legal Assistance to Servicemembers and Veterans, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Acquiring information from a government agency about negligence that has occurred is difficult, and if you compound that with an injured service member who is thousands of miles away, obtaining that information can be extraordinarily difficult,” Neff added.

The clinic is arguing that servicemembers should be given additional time, called equitable tolling, if they are unable to gather the necessary information within the two-year limit.

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