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Court Wins

Board Errs In Denying Service Connection for Hiatal Hernia Secondary to Duodenal Ulcer Disability

Jenna Zellmer

June 7, 2018

Updated: November 20, 2023

Court Win - Service Connection PTSD

The Veteran served honorably in the United States Army from October 1968 to October 1970 to include service in Vietnam. He was examined at separation from service and was sent for an upper gastrointestinal (UGI) examination that showed a possible duodenal ulcer.

Veteran Files for Service Connection

In November 1970, the Veteran filed for service connection for ulcers and was granted service connection for a duodenal ulcer later that month. The Veteran then filed a claim for service connection for hiatal hernia in 2009 which he thought to have been aggravated by his service-connected duodenal ulcer. In October 2009, the Veteran underwent a Compensation and Pension examination in which the examiner opined that the Veteran’s hiatal hernia is a “separate condition” that “is not caused by or the result of ulcer disease.” The Regional Office subsequently denied service connection for the Veteran’s duodenal ulcer on a direct and secondary basis. The Veteran appealed the denial to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals which denied his claim for service connection.

The Veteran appealed the Board’s denial to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The Court remanded the Veteran’s case back to the Board in order to obtain a new examination. After the Veteran again appealed to the Court, the Board obtained a third medical opinion. The examiner opined that it was less likely than not that the Veteran’s duodenal ulcer aggravated his hiatal hernia.

In March 2017, the Board again denied the Veteran service connection for hiatal hernia based on the examiner’s opinion.

CCK Appeals to Court

CCK appealed to Court the denial of service connection for hiatal hernia as aggravated by the Veteran’s service-connected duodenal ulcer. CCK argued that the Board relied on an inadequate VA medical opinion when it denied service connection. CCK contended that the VA examiner failed to sufficiently address direct service connection and to properly address secondary service connection based on aggravation. The examiner stated that the size of the veteran’s hiatal hernia did not increase as a result of his duodenal ulcer, but did not adequately address whether the symptoms of the Veteran’s hiatal hernia were aggravated by his duodenal ulcer.

The Court Agrees with CCK’s Argument and Remands Veteran’s Case

The Court agreed with CCK’s argument that the VA examiner’s opinion was inadequate and that the Board erred when it relied on the opinion to deny service connection. The Court remanded the Veteran’s case back to the Board for readjudication.

About the Author

Bio photo of Jenna Zellmer

Jenna joined CCK in January of 2014 as an appellate attorney, was named Managing Attorney in September of 2019, and now serves as a Partner at the firm. Her law practice focuses on representing disabled veterans at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

See more about Jenna