December 3, 2004

Court of Appeals Backs HSLDA

On November 18, 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans' Affairs sided with HSLDA, denying the Veterans Administration's petition for reconsideration in the Appeal of George R. Theiss.

HSLDA has represented decorated Vietnam veteran George Theiss in his claim for veterans benefits for over five years. Under his military pension Mr. Theiss should receive benefits to help care for his dependents as long as each child is a member of his household and pursuing a course of instruction at an approved educational institution.

In March 1998, the general counsel for the Veterans Administration issued an official opinion that homeschooling did not count as an "approved educational institution," an opinion based on a faulty interpretation of how the word, institution applies to homeschools. In 1999, the Department informed Mr. Theiss that when his son turned 18, the additional benefits would be cut off based on the general counsel's opinion, even though Mr. Theiss was conducting a homeschool program in full compliance with Wisconsin law.

The general counsel maintained through an administrative appeal by HSLDA that since homeschools are operated for only one student, it is not an educational institution. HSLDA further appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans' Affairs, whose subsequent ruling criticized the general counsel for its "narrow" definition of educational institution and its failure to present a "rational, comprehensive explanation" for not considering homeschooling an educational institution. A three-judge panel of the court also held that the Veterans Administration should have first publicized the regulation denying homeschoolers additional benefits, allowing interested persons the opportunity to comment before it was passed. After this July 27, 2004 ruling, the VA asked the full court of seven judges to reconsider the panel's decision.

The VA's petition was denied with overwhelming support for HSLDA's position and for homeschoolers across America. The November 18 order of the full court was unanimous in denying the request for review. One judge even wrote that that the review should be granted, but not to rule in favor of the VA. Rather, he wanted to address the issue more completely so that there could be no doubt that homeschooling is an educational institution!

"This is a big win for homeschoolers across the board, not just for homeschooling veterans," HSLDA attorney Jim Mason explained. "The precedent will positively affect policy-making and litigation for homeschoolers within other governmental agencies like the Social Security Administration, Social Services, or state or county adoption agencies."

 Other Resources

In the Appeal of George R. Theiss