Monday, July 29, 2013

Massie v. Shinseki

Massie v. Shinseki, docket no. 2012-7087 (Fed. Cir. July 29, 2013)
In order for medical evidence to constitute a “report of examination” under 38 C.F.R. § 3.157(b)(1), and thus qualify as an informal claim for an increased rating, the medical evidence must (1) refer to at least one specific medical examination and (2) assert that the veteran’s service-connected condition has worsened. In this case, the veteran attempted to assert that a letter from his VA doctor raised an informal claim for an increased rating – even though the letter did not mention an examination or state that the veteran’s condition had worsened. The CAVC interpreted 38 C.F.R. § 3.157(b)(1) to require these two elements – and the Federal Circuit agreed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Burden v. Shinseki

Burden v. Shinseki, docket no. 2012-7096 (Fed. Cir. July 16, 2013)
In this case, the Federal Circuit affirmed the CAVC’s opinion that state law, including state evidentiary standards, must be applied in determining the validity of a common-law marriage.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Romanowsky v. Shinseki

Romanowsky v. Shinseki, docket no. 11-3272 (Vet. App. July 10, 2013)
Evidence of a recent diagnosis of a disability that was made prior to the veteran’s filing of a claim for that disability is relevant evidence that the Board must address in determining whether a current disability existed when the claim was filed or during its pendency. In this case, the veteran was diagnosed with an adjustment disorder in May 2008, which resulted in his discharge from service. He filed a claim for VA benefits for that disorder in November 2008. In December 2008, a VA examiner determined that the veteran did not have an adjustment disorder, and VA denied the claim the following month. The veteran appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals – and the Board relied on the CAVC’s prior holding in McClain v. Nicholson, 21 Vet.App. 319 (2007), to determine that the May 2008 diagnosis falls outside the claim period, and that there was no current diagnosis for VA benefits purposes.

The Court held that the Board misconstrued McClain and erred by not considering whether the May 2008 diagnosis established that his disability existed at the time he filed his claim, even if the disability resolved prior to adjudication. The Court also provided a lengthy discussion of the appropriate remedy, and appeared poised to reverse, noting that “the ‘clearly erroneous’ standard applied by the Court is less deferential than the ‘substantial evidence’ standard applied by courts when reviewing non-VA administrative adjudication.” Opinion at *10 (quoting R. Pierce, Administrative Law Treatise §§ 11.2, 11.3 (5th ed. 2010)). However, the Court determined that remand was appropriate in this case because of the Board’s misinterpretation of McClain and its failure to weigh the evidence.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Yonek v. Shinseki

Yonek v. Shinseki, docket no. 2012-7120 (Fed. Cir. July 8, 2013)
In this case, the Federal Circuit held that a veteran is only entitled to a single disability rating under 38 C.F.R. § 4.71a, Diagnostic Code 5201, for each arm where there is limited motion of the shoulder. The Court held that a veteran cannot get separate ratings for flexion and abduction. The Court acknowledged that diagnostic codes for the knee and elbow allow for separate ratings for limitation of flexion and extension, but relied on the plain language of DC 5201 to find that any limitation of motion of the shoulder constitutes a single disability, regardless of the various ways in which the motion is limited.