Tuesday, January 15, 2013

El-Amin v. Shinseki

El-Amin v. Shinseki, 26 Vet.App. 136 (Jan. 15, 2013) A VA examiner’s statement that the condition that caused the veteran’s death was “related to” factors other than his service-connected condition did not rule out the possibility that his service-connected condition did not aggravate the condition that led to his death. In this case, a deceased veteran’s widow sought service-connected death benefits, asserting that his service-connected PTSD caused or aggravated his alcoholism, which in turn led to the cirrhosis that ultimately caused his death. The Board denied the claim, relying on a VA examiner’s opinion that it was “more likely than not that the veteran’s alcohol abuse was related to factors other than the veteran’s post-traumatic stress disorder.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) determined that the Board failed to address the aggravation issue and found that it was not clear “how the Board could interpret the examiner’s statements as having considered whether Mr. El-Amin’s post-traumatic stress disorder aggravated his alcohol abuse.” The Court added that the inadequate medical examination was due to a faulty “inquiry request” that improperly limited the examiner’s response to one of six standardized answers, none of which discussed whether the veteran’s PTSD aggravated his alcoholism.

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