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the criteria listed by the Board are those pertaining to the 100% rating under § 4.130, not the 70% rating the Board mislabeled it as. As a result, the Board didn’t properly consider if the veteran’s PTSD was more severe than a 50% rating but less severe than a 100% rating. When the veteran specifically requests an increase in his or her rating, the Board has an obligation to explain not only why the symptoms comport with the assigned rating criteria, but also why they don’t comport with the next higher disability rating criteria. Shoemaker v. Derwinski, 3 Vet.App. 248, 253 (1992); Bankhead, 29 Vet.App. at 18-19.;
Designated for electronic publication only
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR VETERANS CLAIMS
MICHAEL J. LUSSIER, APPELLANT,
SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, APPELLEE.
Before JAQUITH, Judge.
Note: Pursuant to U.S. Vet. App. R. 30(a), this action may not be cited as precedent.
JAQUITH, Judge: The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) is obligated to provide an adequate statement of reasons or bases for its degree-of-disability determination; that obligation is particularly acute when the Board assesses mental disorder ratings because without it, the Court is unable to discern why a higher rating wasn’t warranted. 38 C.F.R. § 4.7 (2021); Bankhead v. Shulkin, 29 Vet.App. 10, 18-19 (2017). Since March 2012, U.S. Air Force veteran Michael J. Lussier has had a 30% disability rating for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Record (R.) at 1304, 1447. He sought a higher rating, and on January 27, 2020, the Board issued the decision now on appeal, finding that the frequency of his panic attacks approximated a 50% rating. R. at 31-32. The Board also explained why a 70% rating wasn’t warranted, but did so by comparing the veteran’s symptoms with the criteria for a 100% rating.1 Id. The Court remands to correct this error.
The veteran’s PTSD is measured against the rating criteria described in 38 C.F.R. § 4.130 (2021), Diagnostic Code (DC) 9411, which directs the rating specialist to apply the General Rating
1 The Board also dismissed the veteran’s appeal seeking an earlier effective date for his PTSD. R. at 5. And the Board denied the veteran entitlement to an…Link to original post
- Single Judge Application; Spellers v. Wilkie; the Court held in Spellers v. Wilkie, with respect to the diagnostic code for incomplete paralysis of the sciatic nerve, which also rates the condition based solely on the level of severity (i.e., mild, moderate, severe), the “lack of objective criteria for differentiating between the specified severity levels means that any evidence indicating severity of incomplete paralysis of the sciatic nerve is necessarily relevant to the schedular rating level.” 30 Vet.App. 211, 219 (2018) (emphasis omitted);
- Single Judge Application; tinnitus; Murphy v. Wilkie, 983 F.3d 1313, 1318 (Fed. Cir. 2020) (endorsing Clemons and explaining that “VA shall afford lenity to a veteran’s filings; evidence developed in processing that claim; claimant’s description of the claim; the symptoms the claimant describes; and the information the claimant submits or that the Secretary obtains in support of the claim; The Board did not, however, address the reasonably raised issue of whether the veteran’s specific claim for tinnitus encompassed a claim for a vestibular condition manifesting in dizziness, as required by Clemons. In Clemons, the Court explained that, because lay claimants generally lack the medical knowledge to narrow the universe of a claim to a particular diagnosis, VA “should construe a claim based on the reasonable expectations of the non-expert, self-represented claimant and the evidence developed in processing that claim.” 23 Vet.App. at 5. “[T]he claimant’s intent in filing a claim is paramount to construing its breadth,” and factors relevant to that inquiry include “the claimant’s description of the claim; the symptoms the claimant describes; and the information the claimant submits or that the Secretary obtains in support of the claim.” Id. The Court ultimately held that the Board may not deny a claim because a lay claimant’s hypothesized diagnosis proves incorrect; rather, the Board must “confront the difficult questions of what current condition actually exist[s] and whether it was incurred in or aggravated by service.” Id. at 6. In so doing, the Board must make “affirmative finding[s] as to the nature of the [claimant’s] condition.” Id. In short, “the fact that the [claimant] may be wrong about the nature of his [or her] condition does not relieve the Secretary of his duty to properly adjudicate the claim.” Id.; see generally Murphy v. Wilkie, 983 F.3d 1313, 1318 (Fed. Cir. 2020) (endorsing Clemons and explaining that “VA shall afford lenity to a veteran’s filings that fail to enumerate precisely the disabilities included within the bounds of a claim,” which “is best accomplished by looking to the veteran’s reasonable expectations in filing the claim and the evidence developed in processing that claim”).;
- Single Judge Application; the ultimate “lesson of our cases is that, while a pro se claimant’s ‘claim must identify the benefit sought,’ the identification need not be explicit in the claim-stating documents, but can also be found indirectly through examination of evidence to which those documents themselves point when sympathetically read.” Shea v. Wilkie, 926 F.3d 1362, 1368–69 (Fed. Cir. 2019). Here, the claim-stating documents pointed, when sympathetically viewed, to a history of symptoms of abdominal pain that yielded a diagnosis of gastritis. And that’s not all. The veteran’s gastritis was expressly linked to service by VA’s own medical examiner—in the context of an examination sought by the Agency as part of the development of Mr. Martinelli’s other claims.; The Secretary says the veteran is out of his depth in suggesting to the Court that melatonin use indicates sleep issues. But even if that were true, the veteran retorts, the Secretary forgets the Court’s ability to take judicial notice of facts generally known. See Tagupa v. McDonald, 27 Vet.App. 95, 100-01 (2014). Indeed, one need look no further than a basic medical dictionary to conclude that his in-service prescription was favorable, material evidence. Melatonin is “a hormone . . . implicated in the regulation of sleep, mood, puberty, and ovarian cycles. It has been tried therapeutically for a number of conditions, including insomnia and jet lag.” DORLAND’S ILLUSTRATED MEDICAL DICTIONARY 1110 (33d ed. 2020). The Board has a responsibility to explain why it rejects favorable, material evidence. Garner v. Tran, 33 Vet.App. 241, 250 (2021).;
- Tinnitus may occur following a single exposure to high-intensity impulse noise, long-term exposure to repetitive impulses, long-term exposure to continuous noise, or exposure to a combination of impulses and continuous noise (Loeb and Smith, 1967; Chermak and Dengerink, 1987; Metternich and Brusis, 1999; Temmel et al., 1999; Stankiewicz et al., 2000; Mrena et al., 2002).”
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Single Judge Application; Shoemaker v. Derwinski, 3 Vet.App. 248, 253 (1992); Bankhead, 29 Vet.App. at 18-19; the criteria listed by the Board are those pertaining to the 100% rating under § 4.130, not the 70% rating the Board mislabeled it as. As a result, the Board didn't properly consider if the veteran's PTSD was more severe than a 50% rating but less severe than a 100% rating. When the veteran specifically requests an increase in his or her rating, the Board has an obligation to explain not only why the symptoms comport with the assigned rating criteria, but also why they don't comport with the next higher disability rating criteria. Shoemaker v. Derwinski, 3 Vet.App. 248, 253 (1992); Bankhead, 29 Vet.App. at 18-19.;
Designated for electronic publication onlyUNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR VETERANS CLAIMSNo. 20-3539MICHAEL J. LUSSIER, APPELLANT,V.DENIS MCDONOUGH,SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, APPELLEE.Before JAQUITH, Judge.MEMORANDUM DECISIONNote: Pursuant to U.S. Vet. App. R. 30(a), this action may not be cited as precedent.JAQUITH, Judge: The Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board) is obligated to provide an adequate statement of reasons...