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Court Wins

Board Erred When It Ignored the Veteran’s Competent Lay Statement

Kaitlyn Degnan

January 31, 2018

Updated: June 20, 2024


Summary of the Case

The Veteran served honorably in the United States Army from 1964 to 1968.  While in service, he injured his back carrying a generator from one vehicle to another.  He treated his injury with muscle relaxants but continued to experience recurrent low back pain in service.  Following service, his wife observed his continued low back pain.  His treating physician diagnosed him with a ruptured disc.  His physician also specifically told him that his in-service injury caused his back disability.

VA denies the Veteran service connection for a low back disability

The Veteran filed a claim for service connection for a low back disability in 2010.  During two VA  examinations the Veteran was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease, however both examiners opined this disability was not related to service.  The Veteran appealed the VA’s decision to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.  His claim was denied in 2016.  The Board acknowledged the Veteran was competent to report his continued back pain symptoms since service, and to report what his treating physician had told him.  Despite statements submitted by the Veteran, the Board found the negative VA examinations more probative.  The Board thus denied service connection based on these examinations.  With CCK’s help, the Veteran appealed the Board’s decision to the Court of Appeals for Veteran’s claims.

CCK appeals to Court; CAVC agrees with CCK’s arguments

CCK argued, and the Court agreed, that the Board failed to provide adequate reasons or bases for relying on the VA examinations over the Veteran’s competent lay statements.   While both VA examiners opined the Veteran’s disability was not related to service, they did not address the Veteran’s reports about what his doctor told him, and therefore, the medical opinion stating that the Veteran’s in-service injury was likely related to his current diagnosis, was ignored.

Examiners ignored Veteran’s lay statement

The Court noted that VA examiners did not need to discuss all favorable evidence in the record.  However, in this case, the favorable evidence directly contradicted the examiner’s conclusions.  The Board therefore had no medical analysis by which to weigh evidence, as the examiners did not address the Veteran’s lay statement.

The Court vacated the Board’s decision and remanded the Veteran’s claim for further adjudication.

To read the Court’s decision, click here.

About the Author

Bio photo of Kaitlyn Degnan

Kaitlyn joined CCK in September of 2017 as an Associate Attorney. Her practice focuses on representing disabled veterans before the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

See more about Kaitlyn