CCK Secures Remand for Surviving Spouse of Thailand Veteran
Summary of the Case
The Veteran served honorably in active duty service in the U.S. Air Force from August 1957 to July 1979, including service in Thailand from May 1969 to July 1970. His service personnel records reflect that his duty station in Thailand was the airfield at Ubon Royal Thai Air Base. The Veteran passed away on November 5, 2015 due to cardiopulmonary arrest. His death certificate lists underlying cardiac disease and coronary artery disease as conditions leading to his death. In March 2016, the Veteran’s surviving spouse filed for service connection for cause of death. In January 2017, the VA Regional Office denied the claim and the appellant filed an appeal. Months later, the appellant submitted additional argument, asserting that the Veteran’s records place him on and near the perimeter of the base where he was exposed to herbicides. As a result, he is entitled to related presumptions. However, VA continued to deny the claim in October 2017.
Board Denies Service Connection for Cause of Death
On September 18, 2018, the Board denied service connection for the cause of the Veteran’s death. The Board acknowledged that the Veteran served at Ubon Royal Thai Air Base, but determined that neither his performance evaluations nor any other service records reflected that “his actual duties took him on or near the base perimeter.” In making this finding, the Board did not discuss where, specifically, the Veteran worked on base, the location of the airfield relative to the perimeter, or the base maps submitted for the record. The Board further found that the appellant failed to raise persuasive arguments regarding the legitimacy of the procedures VA follows to determine whether veterans who served in Thailand were exposed to herbicides.
CCK Appeals to the CAVC
CCK successfully appealed to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) the Board decision that denied service connection for the Veteran’s cause of death. CCK argued that the Board erred because it failed to consider favorable evidence that the Veteran’s specific duty location (i.e. the airfield) was near the perimeter of Ubon Royal Thai Air Base. Importantly, special VA rules were issued regarding the adjudication of claims based on veterans’ assertions that they were exposed to herbicides while serving at certain military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam War era. The VA Adjudication and Procedures Manual (M21-1) states that, “to verify exposure to herbicides,” VA should first determine whether a veteran served at one of seven Royal Thai Air Bases, among which is Ubon, and whether the veteran served in the US Air Force as a security police officer, security patrol dog handler, or member of the security police squadron, or was “otherwise near the air base perimeter as shown by evidence of daily work duties, performance evaluation reports, or other credible evidence.” Here, the Veteran’s service personnel records reflect that his duty location at Ubon Royal Thai Air Base was the airfield. As such, CCK asserted that the Veteran’s duties took him near the base perimeter, and submitted evidence in support of this.
Court Agrees with CCK, Issues Remand
CCK argued, and the Court agreed, that because the Board failed to discuss the location of the airfield relative to the Ubon Royal Thai Air Base perimeter, it failed to support its determination that the Veteran was not exposed to herbicides in Thailand, and thus, was not entitled to service connection for cause of death on a presumptive basis. As a result, the Court remanded the appellant’s case for further development and readjudication.
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