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ADVISORY: Former Reservist Wins Federal Case Against Air Force in Effort to Obtain Disability Retirement Pay

November 15, 2019

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November 15, 2019, WASHINGTON, D.C.— A former U.S. Air Force Reserve member is expected to obtain full disability retirement benefits—which could total hundreds of thousands of dollars—after winning his appeal after years of fighting the Air Force for them.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit today reversed a decision of the Court of Federal Claims that former U.S. Air Force Reserve Captain Malcom W. Pipes is not entitled to a disability retirement due to his non-duty status at the time he suffered a stroke after being ordered to participate in a self-paced fitness improvement program (SFIP).

Pipes, who served in the Air Force on active duty for seven years, and the Air Force Reserve for nine years, was formally enrolled in a SFIP, and was given a written order from his Commander to exercise at least five times per week. The order instructed Pipes to perform exercises specified by the SFIP, which included pushups, crunches, and 1.5-mile runs.

Despite Pipes’ medical issues of which the military was fully aware, he was medically cleared and ordered to continue the exhaustive exercise regimen. However, in 2006, Pipes became ill while running in accordance with the SFIP and experienced “a headache, difficulty breathing, dizziness, an impression of being over-heated, and a general feeling of malaise.” These symptoms continued, requiring Pipes to be admitted to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with having had a stroke. It permanently incapacitated him.

Subsequently, in 2007, Pipes was medically disqualified for continued military duty. But instead of an administrative discharge for physical disqualification, or instead of doing a line of duty determination, the Air Force informed Pipes that he was eligible for a deferred retirement, with the assignment backdated to September 4, 2006. In October 2008, Pipes was informed that his retirement from the Air Force was approved, but Pipes, who was 47 years old at the time, would not be able to obtain the approved retirement benefits until he was 60 years old.

After multiple denials from the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records (AFBCMR) of his efforts to obtain disability retirement pay because of the line of duty stroke, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard the case and determined that, “for reasons not explained by the Air Force, the apparently sui generis SFIP designed for Pipes to perform when in civilian status went beyond recommendation and encouragement, being mandated by lawful orders issued during times when Pipes was in inactive duty status.”

The court therefore reversed the decision of the Court of Federal Claims that Pipes is not entitled to a disability retirement under 10 U.S.C. § 1204(2)(B)(i) (2000), due to his non-duty status at the time he was ordered to participate in the SFIP. The case has been remanded to the AFBCMR, where Pipes is expected to obtain his full disability retirement benefits, which could total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Obtain insights from an experienced federal employment attorney on the following:

What:
  • How will the decision in Pipes v. United States impact other reserve military personnel who have been denied disability benefits due to injuries sustained while performing self-paced fitness improvement programs (SFIP) or other similar programs?
  • When is participation in other reserve related duties considered not in the line of duty?
  • What is the potential impact of this case on the Air Force?
Who: “I believe there are many other military personnel who may have been harmed in self-paced fitness improvement programs, but were subsequently told they were not in the line of duty, costing them their disability retirement benefits,” said Tully Rinckey PLLC Partner Cheri L. Cannon, Esq., Captain Pipes’ attorney. Cannon is a vital component of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s nationally recognized federal labor and employment practice group.
Where: Cheri L. Cannon is available for interviews via phone or Skype. Tully Rinckey PLLC also has the ability to participate in high-definition videoconferencing.

 

To arrange an opportunity to speak with Cheri Cannon, please contact Cassandra Moffitt at (585) 492-1406 or via email at cmoffitt@tullylegal.com

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