Court Overturns Board Denial of Service Connection for Diabetes due to Herbicide Exposure in Thailand
Summary of the Case
This Veteran served on active duty in the U.S. Army from June 1966 to June 1969 as an engine equipment repairman and auto mechanic, including service in Thailand from March 1967 to February 1968. Following service, he received treatment though the VA healthcare system for diabetes mellitus, type 2 and was given medication to manage the condition.
He filed a December 2016 claim for service connection for diabetes based on exposure to herbicides during his service in Thailand. However, a VA regional office (RO) denied the claim in August 2017, finding no service in Vietnam and no herbicide exposure during service.
Veteran Appeals RO Decision to the Board
In September 2017, the Veteran appealed, arguing that he was exposed to herbicides used to kill vegetation during road construction in Thailand. He submitted a statement in November 2017 listing his in-service chemical exposures, including herbicides while working on the airfields in Thailand.
However, in July 2019, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals denied the Veteran both presumptive service connection and direct service connection for his condition. While the Board did recognize that the Veteran served at the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB) from March 1967 to February 1968, it also noted that, as an engine equipment repairman and auto mechanic, he was not working near the Korat RTAFB’s perimeter.
Furthermore, the Board rejected the Veteran’s lay statements alleging herbicide exposure during service in Thailand, arguing that those statements were not specific enough to establish exposure on a presumptive basis, and found no in-service complaint, diagnosis, or treatment for diabetes to support direct service connection.
Court Agrees with CCK, Finds Failure in Duty to Assist
With the help of CCK, the veteran appealed the Board’s July 2019 decision to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. CCK argued that the Board had a duty to adjudicate the location of the airfields and roads relative to the perimeter of the base, as it could not plausibly find that the Veteran did not serve on or near the perimeter without clarifying the layout of the base.
CCK also maintained that the Board’s duty to assist meant it needed to further develop the record, including obtaining records such as maps held by DoD or submitting a Joint Services Records Research Center (JSSRC) request. In addition, CCK noted that despite VA’s requests for additional information from the Veteran earlier in the case, it did not absolve VA of its duty to obtain evidence reasonably capable of substantiating his claim.
Ultimately, the Court agreed that the Veteran’s lay statements regarding his herbicide exposure in Thailand were “sufficiently specific to trigger VA’s duty to assist him in obtaining records as to the location of those roads and airfields.” After hearing CCK’s arguments, the Court also determined that Board failed to provide adequate reasons for its denial of service connection for diabetes.
The Court set aside the Board decision denying service connection for diabetes mellitus, type 2, and remanded the matter for further development and readjudication. For more details, you can review the full decision.
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