O'Brien: Dependency, Legal Guardianship

O’Brien v. Wilkie16-2651 (May 4, 2018)

HELD: Legal guardianship does not satisfy VA’s definition of “child” for dependency purposes.

SUMMARY: Veteran sought dependency benefits for his grandson. The veteran was the grandson’s legal guardian, but had not formally adopted him. VA denied dependency benefits for the grandson since he did not meet VA’s definition of a dependent child. Veteran appealed to the Court, arguing that the Court should rely on the “plain meaning” of the word “dependent” – and that because his grandson is “actually dependent” on the veteran, he should be included as a dependent for VA benefits purposes. 

The Court disagreed, finding that while the relevant statute and regulation do not define “dependent,” the structure of the statute (38 U.S.C. § 1115) makes it clear that Congress intended to limit “dependents” to “spouses, children, and dependent parents.” The Court also found that Congress expressly limited the definition of “child” to a minor “who is a legitimate child, a legally adopted child, [or] a stepchild who is a member of the veteran’s household,” citing 38 U.S.C. § 101(4)(A).