The Board Erred When It Denied the Veteran an Increased Rating for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Headaches
Summary of the Case
The Veteran served in the United States Coast Guard until February 2005. In August 2004, the Veteran filed a claim for service connection for multiple conditions including bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and headaches. In October 2005, she was granted service connection by the Regional Office (RO), but was given noncompensable ratings. The following month, she filed a Notice of Disagreement seeking an increased rating for both conditions. A year later, the RO issued a Decision Review Officer Decision raising her carpal tunnel rating to 10% for each arm, and 30% for her headaches effective December 2005.
The Veteran appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in January 2007, and her case was subsequently remanded by the Board. Upon return to the Board, she was denied increased ratings for both conditions and appealed her case to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). She secured a Joint Motion for Remand based on an error in the Board’s decision, and her case was returned to the Board for readjudication.
The Board remanded her case and she was granted an increased rating for her headaches to 50%, and carpal tunnel to 30% for her right arm, and 20% for her left arm by the RO in April 2015, effective April 2015. She appealed this decision for an earlier effective date, which the Board denied.
CCK appealed the Veteran’s case to court.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The Board denied the Veteran an increased rating for her service-connected carpal tunnel syndrome and for her headaches. In regards to the carpal tunnel syndrome, the Board failed to consider whether diagnostic code (DC) 8512 was applicable. Importantly, in a previous joint remand, the Board was notified that it should address the applicability of DC 8512.
The Board also denied the Veteran a higher rating for her service-connected headaches prior to November 2012. The Board found that the headaches were not very frequent, completely prostrating and prolonged attacks productive of severe economic inadaptability. In an April 2011 VA examination, the examiner noted that the Veteran’s headaches can last between one and three days and required “her to lie down and causing vomiting if she eats.”
Court Agrees with CCK’s Argument, Remands Veteran’s Case
CCK argued that the Board did not comply with the prior Joint Motion for Remand when it failed to address whether the Veteran’s carpal tunnel syndrome should be rated under DC 8512.
The Court agreed with CCK’s argument and found that the Board clearly erred when it concluded that it substantially complied with the prior remand order despite not considering DC 8512 for the Veteran’s Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. On remand, the Board must consider that diagnostic code.
CCK argued that the Board neglected to address favorable evidence regarding the Veteran’s headaches, specifically that she mentioned in the 2011 examination that her headaches cause her to lie down and occasionally vomit. CCK also argued that the Board applied the wrong standard when addressing whether the Veteran’s headache could impact her ability to work.
The Court agreed with CCK’s argument and found that the Board erred when it provided an inadequate statement of reasons or bases for its conclusion regarding the Veteran’s headaches. The Board failed to consider favorable material evidence, or consider whether her headaches were capable of producing severe economic inadaptability. On remand, the Board must consider all of the pertinent evidence and determine whether the Veteran’s disability is capable of producing severe economic inadaptability.
Read the Court’s decision.
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