Stern v. McDonough
In a recent case, Stern v. McDonough, Louis J. Stern is appealing a decision made by the Board of Veterans' Appeals. This decision involved the reduction of Stern's disability ratings for polyneuropathy in his arms and legs, as well as the denial of his entitlement to disability compensation for a seizure disorder. While Stern abandoned his appeal for the seizure disorder, he argues that the Board erred in applying the correct legal standard when reducing his ratings.
Stern's main contention is that the Board only considered one element of the two-element test, failing to consider the impact of his disabilities on his daily life and work. This omission led to an incomplete assessment of his condition. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, however, is advocating for a remand.
The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has taken a different stance. They disagreed with the Secretary's position and instead reversed the decision made by the Board. The court believes that the Board did not consider whether Stern's improved polyneuropathies had led to an improved ability to function. They have remanded the case back to the Board with instructions to reevaluate Stern's situation considering all relevant factors.
This ruling highlights the court's commitment to reviewing rating reduction cases and protecting the rights of veterans. It also underscores its track record of addressing procedural errors and incorrect legal standards through reversals or remands. This decision reinforces the importance of thorough evaluation and consideration of all parts of a veteran's disability when deciding on their benefits.
Frantzis v. McDonough
Frantzis v. McDonough concerns the appellant, Louis R. Frantzis, challenging the Board of Veterans' Appeals decision denying him an earlier effective date and greater disability rating for his service-connected tension headaches. Frantzis argues that he has the right to a Board hearing before the Board member who will ultimately decide his administrative appeal, under the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act (AMA). However, the Court holds that the AMA does not require the same Board member who conducted the Board hearing to also decide the appeal, and that Frantzis had no right to have the same Board member who conducted the Board hearing participate in the final determination. The Court also finds that Frantzis waived any appellate argument based on the fair process doctrine. The Court discusses the significance of two statutes, 38 U.S.C. § 7102(a) and 38 U.S.C. § 7107, in relation to the appellant's argument, and ultimately finds that the AMA does not require the same Board member to conduct the hearing and issue the decision. The Court also discusses the Board's consideration of statements made by Frantzis and his wife, and concludes that Frantzis did not meet his burden of proof. The Court affirms the Board's decision, but Judge Jaquith files a dissenting opinion, arguing that Frantzis was denied fair process and that the Board did not uphold principles of fair process in his case. Judge Jaquith also argues that the pro-veteran canon should resolve any ambiguity in the veteran's favor, and that the Board's dismissal of the veteran's lay evidence was improper.
Foster v. McDonough
In the case of Foster v. McDonough, 34 Vet.App. 338 (2021), the reduction of a veteran's disability rating from 100% to 10% for prostate cancer residuals and the discontinuation of special monthly compensation (SMC) were reviewed. The appellant, Fred W. Foster, a veteran, served in the United States Army from April 1968 to November 1969. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which has jurisdiction over veterans appeals, handled this case.
At first, Foster was granted a 100% disability rating for prostate cancer in September 2014, along with SMC based on housebound criteria and loss of a creative organ. However, after a review examination conducted in October 2015 revealed that his prostate cancer was in remission, the regional office (RO) proposed to discontinue Foster's 100% disability rating and assign a 10% disability rating based on voiding dysfunction and end his SMC.
The Board of Veterans' Appeals affirmed the discontinuance of the 100% rating, finding it was not a rating reduction in the traditional sense and did not require special procedures. However, the Court remanded the 10% disability rating and entitlement to SMC for further proceedings, noting that the Board did not adequately explain why a 10% disability rating was appropriate. Throughout the case, the Court also addressed the appellant's arguments regarding the Board's failure to provide adequate reasons for finding his statements not credible. Additionally, the Court clarified the regulations of veterans claims and appeals that apply, analyzed the Board's jurisdiction, and examined the propriety of the 10% disability rating under veterans law and guidelines.
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Wilson v. McDonough
In the case of Wilson v. McDonough, Leon Wilson is appealing for a minimum compensable rating for his service-connected hypertension, a crucial part of VA benefits and appeals. He claims that his diastolic blood pressure meets the criteria outlined in Diagnostic Code 7101, which states that veterans with a history of diastolic pressure predominantly 100 or higher, requiring continuous medication for control, have the right to such a rating.
The appeal is directed towards Denis McDonough, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, highlighting the involvement of high-level officials within the VA. The case is being heard by Judges PIETSCH, GREENBERG, and TOTH, emphasizing the legal processes associated with VA benefits appeals. To support his claim, Wilson relies on the guidance in the VA's Adjudication Procedures Manual, an essential resource for understanding the application of VA disability regulations.
Unfortunately, the Board of Veterans' Appeals denied Wilson's claim, creating a significant setback in his pursuit of fair compensation. The Board determined that his diastolic blood pressure did not predominantly reach the required threshold of 100 or higher during the appeal period, underlining the importance of medical evidence and objective measurements in these cases. Wilson argues that the Board should have considered his blood pressure readings from before he took medication to control his hypertension, a dispute that brings attention to the interpretation and application of VA regulations.
But the Secretary argues these readings should not have been considered by the Board, introducing differing perspectives within the VA's decision-making process. This highlights the complexity of VA benefits appeals and the potential for varying interpretations.
The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled in favor of Wilson, emphasizing the significance of proper evidence and adherence to established guidelines. The court found that pre-medication blood pressure readings were appropriate data to evaluate Wilson's condition. They further determined that the Board had not provided a reasonable justification for disregarding the M21-1 guidance, showcasing the importance of adhering to the VA's internal procedures and guidelines.
Because of the court's ruling, the case was vacated and remanded to the Board, with clear instructions to reconsider its decision and reflect on the significance of correct assessments and comprehensive evidence. This outcome underscores the appeals process within the VA benefits system, highlighting the ability of veterans to challenge adverse decisions and seek fair treatment.