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Board relied on inadequate examinations in denying service-connection for thoracolumbar degenerative disc disease

Board relied on inadequate examinations in denying service-connection for thoracolumbar degenerative disc disease

Summary

The Veteran served on active duty in the Army from June 1988 to December 1991.  In May 1992, VA granted the Veteran service connection for his low back disability, rated at 10%.  In July 1997, the Veteran received an increased rating for his service-connected low back disability to 40%.  The Veteran filed a claim for entitlement to service connection for thoracolumbar degenerative disc disease as secondary to his service-connected low back disability in January 2008.  VA denied his claim.  The Veteran timely disagreed with this rating, and subsequently appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.  During the time on appeal, the Veteran underwent several VA examinations and submitted lay and medical evidence.  In September 2016, the Board denied the Veteran’s claim for entitlement to service connection for his thoracolumbar degenerative disc disease.

Board denied entitlement to service connection for the Veteran’s thoracolumbar degenerative disc disease

In September 2016, the Board denied the Veteran entitlement to service connection for his thoracolumbar degenerative disc disease.  In denying entitlement to service connection, the Board relied on a January 2016 VA examination.  This exam concluded that the Veteran’s thoracolumbar degenerative disc disease was not caused by or related to his service-connected low back disability.  The Veteran appealed the Board’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

CCK appeals to the Court

CCK successfully appealed to the Court the denial of entitlement to service connection for the Veteran’s back condition.  The firm argued that the Board relied on insufficient VA examinations in its denial.  Specifically, the January 2016 exam failed to provide adequate reasons and bases for rejecting favorable evidence that indicated the possibility of a relationship between the Veteran’s service-connected low back disability and his thoracolumbar degenerative disc disease.

CAVC agrees with CCK’s arguments

CCK argued that the Board failed to ensure compliance with the duty to assist the Veteran when it relied on inadequate VA examinations.  The Court agreed with CCK’s assessment.  It held that the VA examinations on which the Board relied were insufficient because they did not provide enough information regarding whether any residuals of the Veteran’s low back disability increased the severity of the symptoms of his thoracolumbar degenerative disc disease.

CCK also argued, and the Court agreed, that the Board failed to provide adequate reasons and bases for rejecting material evidence favorable to the Veteran, which indicated the possibility of a relationship between his service-connected low back disability and his current thoracolumbar degenerative disc disease.  Furthermore, the Court held that the probative value of the Veteran’s December 2006 lay statement was not adequately addressed.  In this statement the Veteran noted that his private chiropractor told him that his service-connected low back disability caused or aggravated his thoracolumbar degenerative disc disease.  The Board largely disregarded this opinion in their determination.  The Court therefore vacated the Board’s decision and remanded the issue of entitlement to service connection for the Veteran’s disc disease.  On remand, the Board must complete further development, if necessary, and readjudicate the Veteran’s claim.

To read a copy of the Court’s decision, click here. 

Category: Court Wins

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