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The Seiu Lawsuit and Its Effects

There is a high possibility that the United States Supreme Court will hand down a landmark ruling in favor of an injured Vietnamese war-time prisoner, Pham Le was awarded compensation by the United States Department of Labor (DOL) and U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) based on his injuries while incarcerated in a prison camp in Hanoi, Vietnam, from April 23 through May 29, 1966. In that period of time, the No Go Zang Specifications Camp was a prison designed and built for the use of Vietnamese political prisoners. Pham Le was one such prisoner who lost his left leg below the knee due to a shrapnel injury while planting a bomb near his cell. The claim rested upon the fact that the injury occurred while he was in an area outside of his cell, which was close enough to a fifteen-minute mortar attack by enemy soldiers.

The State of Texas finally has asked the Supreme Court of the United States to reinstate Pham Le’s claim based upon the argument that the soldiers were not within the ambit of the Texas statutes authorizing compensation for injury or death caused at the time of the event. Pham Le’s lawsuit ultimately was resolved by the Texas state legislature, where a resolution was passed granting him compensatory and rehabilitative damages. The claim was however submitted to the U.S. Department of Labor under the claim to the effect that the conduct of the Texas legislative action was beyond the power of the state itself. This new interpretation of the state constitution was challenged by the lawyers representing the plaintiffs by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).

At the present time, it appears that the Office of Special Counsel has not yet reached a determination with regard to the validity of the complaint. There is a possibility that the lawyers may conclude that the state legislative action was indeed within the power granted to them under the law as found in the Texas Constitution. In any event, the plaintiffs are considering filing an appeal with the United States Supreme Court. The legal battle is being fought on two fronts. Pham Le’s lawyers are attempting to argue that their client suffered an undue financial burden when the settlement was awarded after his death while additionally claiming that the action of the Texas legislature was indeed beyond the power of the state. The second front in this lawsuit is that of whether or not Special Counsel has jurisdiction to consider the claim of a soldier dying while serving in the military during a time when the statute of limitations had expired for most other cases.

This lawsuit involves a soldier who was a member of the Republic of Vietnam known as Loan Nguy. Loan Nguy was a translator for the United States Military in South Vietnam who was killed in combat. A claim of wrongful death has been filed against him by his family. This lawsuit was initially brought by Loan’s widow with the assistance of a Dallas attorney. This attorney is presently representing Loan Nguy’s daughter, Loannia Vang. These lawyers contend that Nguy died as a result of the actions of the Texas legislative bodies in furtherance of their desire to obtain an economic gain through Resolution Unit 1014 which was later known as the Economic Support for a Residue of War Victims Act.

At the point in time this lawsuit was filed, the nation’s capital was under the control of the Nixon administration. Special Counsel was tasked by the Nixon administration to conduct an investigation of the claim being brought forth by Loan Nguy’s family. Special Counsel discovered that this claim was not within the area of jurisdiction of the federal courts and as such directed the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Washington, D.C. to dismiss the claim on the grounds that Loan Nguy’s death was not a cause of injury or death as a direct result of being a member of the Armed Forces.

Loan’s widow, Loannia Vang, is attempting to have her lawsuit granted as a federal claim. Special Counsel in its reply brief noted that it was never within the jurisdiction of the federal courts under the statutory grant of authority in the Act. It is currently believed by many that Special Counsel is attempting to circumvent the will of Congress and push this decision into the court of Texas. Should the court deny the motion to dismiss, we will observe how this plays out in the coming months and years as it relates to the hundreds if not thousands of soldiers who remain dead due to injury or other causes out of range of the district court.

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