Friday, May 25, 2018

Published:09/30/2014

A veteran, Mark Hollis, sustained a work-related injury. He went for treatment to a VA hospital. It was undisputed that Hollis did not seek the approval of his employer before his treatment at the VA. After Hollis had filed his claim for workers’ compensation benefits, the VA filed a motion with the ALJ to intervene in an attempt to recover its expenses in treating Hollis. Section 1729 of the United States Code permits the VA intervene into any action brought by a veteran against a third party. The two issues were:

Does the federal statute giving the VA the ability to intervene in cases to recoup money override the Missouri workers’ compensation statutes that do not allow medical providers to intervene?

If the federal statute does supersede the Missouri statutes, did the VA have the ability to intervene in this situation when the employer did not have the opportunity to approve of the employee’s treatment at a VA hospital?

On the first issue, the Court easily found that the VA had the right to intervene. The federal statute, 38 U.S.C. § 1729, provides that the VA can intervene in any action to obtain payment for the treatment of an injured veteran against any third party the injured veteran could recover against for his/her injuries. Although Missouri chapter 287 does not allow for intervention in workers’ compensation proceedings because Missouri rules of civil procedure do not apply to compensation proceedings and because chapter 287 does not have any provisions which establish a right to intervene, the federal statute supersedes the Missouri statute in conflict with it. In fact, § 1729 specifically states that the VA can intervene in workers’ compensation actions to recoup its fees. Therefore, the Court determined that the VA is permitted to intervene in workers’ compensation proceedings when § 1729 would permit it to so intervene.

Because the Court found the VA could intervene, the Court moved to the second issue. In this instance, because the employer did not approve employee’s treatment by the VA, the employee did not have the right to recover his medical payments from his employer in workers’ compensation. However, the Court determined that chapter 287 has minimal pleading requirements. The VA’s motion to intervene did not allege anything about employee’s failure to procure approval for treatment from his employer and merely alleges that employee was treated for his injuries by the VA and that the VA can intervene under § 1729. The Court found this sufficient to satisfy the minimal requirements of chapter 287. Therefore, the Court ruled the VA could intervene.