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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR VETERANS CLAIMS
RICHARD LARDINOIS, APPELLANT,
SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, APPELLEE.
Before BARTLEY, Chief Judge.
Note: Pursuant to U.S. Vet. App. R. 30(a),
this action may not be cited as precedent.
BARTLEY, Chief Judge: Veteran Richard Lardinois appeals through counsel an
October 1, 2019, Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) decision that denied service connection for
cervical and thoracic spine conditions, bilateral hearing loss, and hypertension. Record (R.) at 5-15. For the reasons that follow, the Court will set aside the October 2019 Board decision and
remand the matters for further development and readjudication consistent with this decision.
Mr. Lardinois served honorably in the U.S. Army from March 1968 to March 1970,
including service in the Republic of Vietnam. R. at 821.
Prior to service, Mr. Lardinois was injured during a January 1967 car accident resulting in
a whiplash injury. See R. at 847. As of September 1967, Mr. Lardinois was still experiencing
residual cervical pain. See id.
During the January 1968 pre-induction examination, a service physician noted that a neck
examination was negative as Mr. Lardinois demonstrated full range of motion, no spasm or
tenderness, and no crepitation. R. at 843. The physician also noted that Mr. Lardinois demonstrated
“defective hearing” and assigned a “2” for hearing on the PULHES scale.1 R. at 844 (reflecting a
hearing acuity threshold of 55 decibels (dB) in the left ear at 4000 Hertz (Hz)).
Service medical records reflect that Mr. Lardinois received treatment for cervical and upper
thoracic pain resulting from the whiplash injury. R. at 841, 850-55. The February
- 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; Wise v. Shinseki, 26 Vet.App. 517, 531 (2014); apply the correct standard of proof for determining that issue; The examiner rejected the scientific evidence because it did not definitely establish a causal link as a generally accepted principle. However, "Congress has not mandated that a medical principle have reached the level of scientific consensus to support a claim for VA benefits." Wise v. Shinseki, 26 Vet.App. 517, 531 (2014). Although the examiner rejected the scientific research evidence, "this did not relieve the Board of its obligation to consider and discuss the potentially favorable medical literature of record" that supported Mr. Lardinois's theory of service connection and "to apply the correct standard of proof for determining that issue." Id. at 531-32; see R. at 353-37 (scientific literature submitted by Mr. Lardinois). However, the Board did not discuss the scientific research evidence submitted by Mr. Lardinois; instead, it adopted the examiner's opinion and his rejection of the scientific evidence without addressing or reconciling that opinion with the proper adjudicative standard of proof;
Designated for electronic publication onlyUNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR VETERANS CLAIMSNO. 20-0344RICHARD LARDINOIS, APPELLANT,V.DENIS MCDONOUGH,SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, APPELLEE.Before BARTLEY, Chief Judge.MEMORANDUM DECISIONNote: Pursuant to U.S. Vet. App. R. 30(a),this action may not be cited as precedent.BARTLEY, Chief Judge: Veteran Richard Lardinois appeals through counsel anOctober 1, 2019, Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board) decision...